Home to thousands of kilometres of golden coastline, Western Australia offers an abundance of magnificent beaches that beckon surfers, swimmers and sun bathers alike. From toddlers to thrill seekers, it is easy to find a spot to suit everyone’s idea of a perfect day at the beach. But the sparkling serenity can be deceiving. While having fun is at the top of most people’s minds, statistics show it’s important to be aware of what can go wrong.
The reality is that the surf can be unpredictable and dangerous, particularly for foreigners and people unfamiliar with its hazards. Rips, dumping waves and submerged rocks, along with the risks posed by sharks and even too much sun exposure can lead to serious and even fatal consequences.
“Swim with a friend.”
Surf Life Saving Western Australia (SLSWA) patrols more than 30 beaches between October and April each year in an effort to keep swimmers safe. These beaches are marked by red and yellow flags. Beachgoers are encouraged to swim between the flags, as this is where lifeguards keep watch and can quickly respond to anyone in distress.
“Always swim between the red and yellow flags and never swim at unpatrolled beaches.”
A list of the patrolled beaches is available on the SLSWA website, along with the patrol times, swimming and surfing information and a live web cam.
According to the 2013 SLSWA Coastal Safety Report, 17 people drowned on the WA coast in the twelve months to the end of April, 2013. Of these, more than half were of overseas nationality.
“Respect the water and know your limitations.”
All of the deaths occurred on beaches where either SLSWA does not patrol, or where there was no patrol on duty at the time.
A list of rescue statistics during the 2013/14 patrol season is a sobering reminder of the dangers of the surf, but also of the valuable service provided by the lifeguards. During this period at Scarborough Beach, for example, there were 53 rescues, 326 preventative actions and 24 first aids.
“Read the Safety Signs”
The Beachsafe website is another useful aid for locals and visitors to Perth’s beaches. It includes links to beach information, weather conditions and Facebook and Twitter feeds. This site also contains a guide to Surf Ed, which is designed to help people increase their knowledge and skills and stay safe at the beach.
Few people have the knowledge and experience to be able to identify and avoid being caught in a rip. Put simply, waves move the water in and rips move the water back out. After a wave breaks in the shallow water on the beach, it recedes back out to sea by flowing into deeper channels in the surf zone, called rip currents.
Rip currents are the greatest hazard on Australian beaches and can lead to drowning when swimmers become exhausted from trying to fight the rip and swim back to shore, or when non-able swimmers get knocked off balance and dragged into deeper waters.
“If you need help, stay calm and attract attention by raising your arm and waving from side to side. Try to conserve energy by floating on your back.”
Free beach safety app
A free app called Beachsafe is now available with up-to-date beach safety information. This information can be viewed in more than 50 languages.
SLSWA has developed the Beach SAFE initiative, targeting the four key areas of coastal water safety:
- Aquatic Education
- First Aid/CPR
- Emergency Preparedness
Surf Life Saving Clubs
Newly relocated people to Perth may like to consider becoming involved in a Surf Life Saving club. There are 29 such clubs in WA, and they present a unique opportunity to feel at home in Perth sooner and learn some valuable new skills. There is a variety of ways in which to be involved, from serving on the club committee to competing in the surf to serving as a lifeguard. Of course to become a surf lifesaver, you will first need to obtain your Bronze Medallion qualification.
Perth, Western Australia is the perfect location for children to learn about fun and safety at the beach. Nippers is a junior program for 5-13 year olds. Older children, from 14-18 years, can become youth members of SLS clubs.
Perth’s glorious beaches are a magnificent drawcard for tourists, visitors and locals alike, but it’s important to be mindful of the dangers they can pose, particularly for the inexperienced.