Rip campaign set to tackle the coast’s ‘silent killer’

Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) will look to address one of the greatest killers on Australian beaches, with the launch of a new rip safety campaign on Sunday.

Each year, rip currents are directly responsible for several thousands rescues and, on average, more than 20 drownings across the country.

The new campaign – Don’t risk the rip – seeks to highlight the potential dangers of rips, with a particular focus on young males who have traditionally been over-represented in Queensland drowning statistics.

To help raise public awareness and educate beachgoers, surf lifesavers will be releasing purple dye into the water at Surfers Paradise this Sunday to dramatically and tangibly highlight how fast and far rip currents can flow.

SLSQ operations support coordinator Jason Argent said it was important to educate swimmers about rip currents and how to spot them in the water.

“There’s no doubt that rip currents are one of the biggest dangers on Australian beaches, particularly if you don’t know how to spot them in the water,” he said.

“Every summer we see thousands of swimmers across Queensland and Australia get into trouble because they can’t identify a rip in the water or they severely underestimate their power and strength.”

Mr Argent said that research had shown it was young men who were most at risk, citing their bravado and overconfidence in the water as the main reasons.

“Overconfidence can be a big issue when it comes to rip currents, particularly amongst that younger male demographic,” he said.

“And we’ve found that a lot of people who think they can spot a rip actually can’t, and a lot of people mistakenly think they don’t need to worry about rips because they’re strong swimmers.

“It’s important to understand that rips don’t discriminate and, tragically, in the past we’ve seen all sorts of people, from international tourists right through to regular beachgoers, drown after they were swept out to sea by a rip they didn’t even know was there,” he said.

Mr Argent said the best way of protecting yourself from the dangers of rip currents was to swim only at patrolled beaches, between the red and yellow flags.

“If you find yourself caught in a rip, it’s really important that you try to stay calm, conserve your energy as much as possible by floating in the water, and raise your arm to attract the attention of lifesavers or lifeguards,” he said.

“Whatever you do, never try to swim directly against the current. The majority of drownings attributed to rip currents have come after swimmers have begun to panic and tried to swim against the current, leaving them too exhausted to keep their heads above water.

“Instead, if you’re comfortable doing so, you can escape a rip by swimming parallel to the beach and then allowing the waves to assist you back to shore,” he said.

Rip currents can be identified by darker channels of water with fewer breaking waves, while sandy-coloured water extending beyond the surf zone can also indicate the presence of a rip.

Because these areas of water can look calm, Mr Argent said swimmers can often assume it’s the safest place to swim, and that is where they can get themselves into a dangerous situation.

Surf Life Saving’s clear message this summer is: Don’t Risk the Rip. If in doubt, ask a surf lifesaver about an alternative place to swim and where possible swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags.

Visit beachsafe.org.au to find out what you don’t know about rips.

Rip safety:

  • To reduce the chances of being caught in a rip current, always swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags.
  • If you need help, stay calm, float and raise an arm to attract the attention of lifeguards and lifesavers.
  • Never swim directly against the current.
  • To escape a rip, swim parallel to the beach and allow waves to assist you back to shore.

According to SLSA research:

  • Only 15% of people who drown in rips are international visitors;
  • It’s young men aged 15-39 years who are most likely to get caught and die in rips and;
  • Two out of three people who think they can identify a rip can’t.

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