Rip current safety lessons

at Umina and Pearl Beach

People with a keen interest in learning rip current safety skills are encouraged to get along to free safety lessons led by local volunteer lifesavers at Umina Beach and Pearl Beach from April 12-18.

Louise Lambeth surveys Pearl Beach.

10 April 2024


PARTICIPATION in rip safety lessons will not only help everyone better understand ways to stay safe on unpatrolled beaches; their attendance and feedback will contribute towards an important drowning prevention research project being conducted collaboratively by Ocean Beach and Umina Surf Life Saving Clubs, Surf Life Saving Australia, the Universities of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.


Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch praised the collaborative research initiative and encourages locals to contribute their time and feedback at the rip current safety skills lessons.


“Our local beaches are beautiful drawcards for locals and visitors alike. However, we must acknowledge that a degree of risk often lies beneath our waves," Ms Tesch said.


“Staying safe and making the most of our local beaches requires knowledge and skill. It’s important for us Coasties living alongside or near our beaches to never take the surf for granted. It is just as critical for visitors unfamiliar with the beaches. We must learn to better understand the kinds of risks that are ever-present – such as rip currents – which are unfortunately renowned for having taken the precious lives of locals and visitors.


“Having rip safety messages onboard - and sharing this knowledge and skills with others in our communities - our families, our friends, our networks - can make a difference when people are confronted with dynamic coastal hazards at unpatrolled beaches.


“I actively encourage locals to say hi to your local volunteer surf lifesavers at Umina Beach and Pearlie and learn some valuable skills.”


Participants who can briefly speak with the research team after the safety lesson will be provided with a complimentary drink voucher that can be redeemed at the Umina Beach Cafe.


Leading beach safety researcher Professor Rob Brander and other beach risk experts argue that reliance on the prevailing message to ‘swim between the flags’ is not enough. Professor Brander says that new evidence-based approaches to beach safety that target drowning prevention on unpatrolled beaches are needed.


"This new research - which connects communities with lifeguards and lifesavers through safety lessons on the beach - is a fantastic and much needed initiative that will help expand beach safety education and drowning prevention efforts beyond the flags,” said Mr Brander.


The research team will be assessing the public’s response to safety lessons conducted by volunteer lifesavers, whether the safety messages are retained, and how likely they are to apply them at an unpatrolled beach.


Later in the year, during August, participants will be contacted to determine whether they have changed their behaviour the next time they visited the beach.


A published study using the same methods of community engagement was successfully tested in Lorne, Victoria during January 2023 in a study conducted in partnership with the Surf Coast Shire, Council lifeguards, Life Saving Victoria and Surf Life Saving Australia. The study found that learning how to more skilfully identify and escape rip currents was key to behaviour change. They also learnt how to assist others caught in, or attempting to perform a rescue in, hazardous rip currents.


Research also found changed beach-going behaviours include comfort with asking lifeguards about site-specific risks and how to identify rip currents before entering the water.


Associate Professor Brian Cook from the University of Melbourne said community engagement was the key pillar in the research project being conducted at Umina and Pearl Beach.


“Our objective is to evaluate the impact of evidenced-based drowning prevention via relationship building between lifesavers and beachgoers through the delivery of skill development lessons on the beach," Professor Cook said.


Dr Jaz Lawes, Research Team Leader at Surf Life Saving Australia says: “Over summer we tragically saw 55 people drown along the Australian coast, a 10% rise above the ten-year average. The New South Wales coastline was where 14 of these fatalities occurred, 38% of these drowning deaths were rip-related and 100% occurred outside the red and yellow flags.


“This research will help guide us to deliver lifesaving education in the most effective way possible, to stop these preventable tragedies from occurring,” said Dr Lawes.


Safety lessons at Umina Beach and Pearl Beach


Beachgoers at Umina Beach and Pearl Beach keen to learn about beach safety and how to avoid rip currents are encouraged to get down to Umina Beach on Friday, April 12 – Sunday, April 14, and Tuesday, April 16 to Thursday, April 18 at Pearl Beach to attend one of four free 10-minute safety lessons. Sessions are held four times a day between 11:30am and 3:30pm.


Further information about the research project


Research project leads are Associate Professor Brian Cook and Dr Peter Kamstra from the School of Geography, Earth and Atmospherics Sciences at the University of Melbourne, supported by SLSA’s Research Team Dr Jaz Lawes and Sean Kelly. Local lifesaver and beach safety educator Louise Lambeth from Ocean Beach Surf Lifesaving Club is the local contact.


The research project was developed as part of the Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDDR) research program run out of the University of Melbourne. The CEDRR methodology was developed by A/Prof Brian Cook, whose research demonstrates that community engagement needs to be about more than just giving people information or telling them what to do. CEDRR puts relationship building at the centre of all their community engagement research, taking the time needed to have meaningful conversations that collect both data and stories.


About the research


This collaborative research project between SLSA and the University of Melbourne has received human ethics committee approval from the University of Melbourne and will be led and delivered by A/Prof Brian Cook and Dr Peter Kamstra and. Brian and Peter - together with a team of trained research scientists - will deliver all phases of the research.


Professor Rob Brander from UNSW and Dr Jaz Lawes from SLSA are assisting with the co-design and analysis of the findings.


Safety lessons will include topics such as how to identify a rip current before entering the water, how to escape a rip current and how to safely assist someone caught in a rip current.

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