AISHA ISABELLA ULSTRUP-HANSEN
Summer is a great time to take advantage of Queenland’s beautiful beaches, but experts warn that it’s important to play it safe and follow the beach safety rules as the weather hots up.
According to Life Saving Queensland’s 2018 to 2019 Coast Safe Report 21 people died on Queensland’s beaches, marking the highest recorded number of beach-related deaths in Queensland history.
In addition, the report found that the number of rescues by lifesavers had increased by 35 per cent.
New summer patrols kicked in last week, with lifesavers asking both locals and tourists to take extra care on the beaches and to be aware of the beach safety rules.
Gold Coast lifeguard coordinator Nathan Fife said one of the key beach safety rules was to only swim in between the red and yellow flags and to only swim on patrolled beaches.
Mr Fife said there was a lot that could be done to prevent people from drowning, but he said it was especially important to pay attention to patrol hours on the beaches.
“Make sure you swim at patrolled locations and between those red and yellow flags, and within the patrol times,” he said.
“Our lifeguards and lifesavers are on patrol from 8 until 5.”
Mr Fife said following this beach safety rule could reduce the risk of swimmers getting caught in a rip, which could be very dangerous.
Every year, Royal Life Saving Australia produces a National Drowning Report.
According to the 2019 report, 276 people drowned in Australia waterways in the past year, which was a 10 per cent increase on the previous year’s figures.
Of these people, 81 per cent were male.
Mr Fife said younger males were at the greatest risk of drowning.
“We have more male drownings, it is the age 18 to 35, and I suppose it is the daredevils who think that they are untouchable, unbreakable, and that they can do whatever they want,” Mr Fife said.
He said tourists, international visitors and newcomers to the country were also at high risk, as many were unfamiliar with the strength of the rips and waves at Australian beaches.
“We see a lot of tourists and people travelling around who like to get in the water early or a bit later at night,” Mr Fife said.
“Our Gold Coast beaches are very open beaches, they do call for a lot of different conditions – big surfs, current movement and a lot of rips – that is why people need to be swimming at patrolled times,” he said.
Warren Young is a Miami Beach lifeguard and a member of the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association.
Mr Young said international visitors and people who had recently moved to Australia were often unaware of the potential danger of swimming on unpatrolled beaches.
“One of the big issues is people’s ability to swim,” he said.
Mr Young said while people arriving from other countries might be fit and healthy, they may not have learned to swim or be a strong swimmer, and may not realise the potential power of rips at Australian beaches.
“If their kids don’t learn to swim here and they go to an ocean beach where there are no lifeguards or lifesavers, it can turn into a tragedy,” he said.
Although beach safety information is available via mobile phone apps as well as via signs and information boards at the beach, and through the use of colour coded flags on patrolled beaches, the information doesn’t always get through to people.
Southport lifeguard Max Johnston said tourists were often unaware of the beach safety rules on Australian beaches.
“It happens almost every day that tourists go down into rips and into wrong places because they don’t know what the flags mean and where the safe spots to swim are,” Mr Johnston said.
“But one thing you can always do is call for support at the beaches or call an ambulance if something happens,” he said.
“In general people should take a look at the ocean, [and] make sure they know where to be and where not to be.”
Nathan Fife said one particularly busy time for lifesavers was during schoolies in November, when newly graduated year 12 students from different states in Australia flock to the Gold Coast to party, drink and enjoy the beaches.
“We have schoolies in November every year here on the Gold Coast,” he said.
“Our amount of patrols go up, the volunteer lifesavers extent their hours, there is more people on guard, and more staff in control on their jet skis.”
Mr Fife said it was particularly dangerous to go on the beaches after drinking alcohol.
Drunk people strolling along the beaches or going for late night swims were also a concern.
“We are trying to get it out to people that the beach is not a place to be drinking,” Mr Fife said.
“The lifeguards and lifesavers have to look after everyone on the beach; if you are doing the right thing, then our job will be a lot easier, too,” he said.
He said alcohol and drugs lowered the chance of survival if a person ran into trouble in the water.
“If you do have an episode and you are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, your survival rate definitely lowers so, please, if you are drinking or on drugs, stay well away from the water.”