Beach Safety

Australia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, making them popular with both locals and tourists alike. Combine this with our idyllic climate, Aussie beach culture and that fact that over 85% of Australians live on the coast, it’s easy to understand their allure.

However, they can be dangerous and unpredictable with many factors to be aware of – rips, currents, waves, drop-offs, sand bars, marine stinger, submerged objects and surf craft all posing risks. On average, one person drowns at an Australian beach every week and 10 people are rescued every day.

Even the most careful people can find themselves out of their limits in the water.

If you suddenly find yourself in an emergency at the beach, there are a couple of things you can do:

Raise your hand – If you’re stuck in the water and something has happened or you can’t safely swim back to shore, raising your hand signals to lifeguards that you or a friend need immediate help. You should conserve your energy by floating on your back and staying calm. This will ensure you have the energy to remain afloat until further aid arrives.

Immediately alert a lifeguard or call Triple Zero (000) – If you’re onshore and see someone in distress, call for help immediately.

Beach and Coastal Safety Resource Hub

What is the Hub?

  • A place for all communities to interact, learn and engage with beach safety information
  • A place to share multilingual information and resources with all communities
  • A place to learn more about Surf Life Saving and how members of the community can get involved
  • A place to explore and engage in virtual and face-to-face beach safety programs
  • A place to share stories from our communities about their experiences with the beach and ocean
  • A place to support and empower our surf lifesaving clubs to engage in community education
  • A place to support our communities to empower themselves and those around them to stay safe on the coast
  • A place to provide an easy and accessible space to access beach and coastal safety relevant resources and information for everyone

What’s on the hub for me?

Feel free to spend some time exploring and discovering on the Hub. We’ve also selected some pages we think you might be interested in:

Find a Patrolled Beach

Voluntary surf patrols within the North Coast Branch generally operate from September through to April each year. All of our eight Surf Life Saving Clubs are required to provide a beach patrol during their allocated patrol hours, with most beaches patrolled between 9am–3pm with extended patrol hours of 9am–5pm during the hotter summer months and in conjunction with Daylight Savings. You can easily tell when a beach is patrolled as you’ll see the red and yellow flags posted in the sand.

A standard beach patrol is made up of a Patrol Captain, Vice-Captain, IRB Driver and several patrol members. The Patrol Captain is responsible for managing their patrol on rostered patrol dates. Every standard patrol must include at least five Bronze Medallion holders, the basic Surf Life Saving Australia award obtained to be a lifesaver.

Patrols members can be identified by the bright red and yellow uniforms they wear. While members of the public are swimming between the red and yellow flags, they can be assured that they are swimming in the safest area of the beach and are under observation by the patrol.

The Surf Life Saving movement prides itself on the diligence of its patrolling members. Lives are rarely (if ever) lost between the flags while patrols are on duty. The professionalism of the Surf Life Saving movement means that it has never been safer to go swimming at the beach.

Swim Between The Flags

If we can’t see you we can’t save you

The most important flags on the beach are the red and yellow flags. These indicate there is currently a life saving service operating on that beach. The lifesavers have chosen a section of the beach that is best for swimming and they will closely supervise this area. Lifesavers pay more attention to the area between the red and yellow flags than any other part of the beach. If there are no red and yellow flags, you should not go swimming.

ALWAYS swim between the red & yellow flags

Swim Between The Flags
ALWAYS swim between the red & yellow flags

Here’s what makes the area between the flags safe to swim:

  • Early each morning lifesavers check the surf conditions at the beach and put out the red and yellow flags showing the safest areas to swim.
  • The flagged swimming areas have been chosen for safe water depth, wave breaking patterns, underwater obstacles and possible rips.
  • The surf life saving patrol is located within the flagged area.
  • Large beaches often have more than one flagged swimming area.
  • During the summer, the flags are up and the lifesavers are on duty usually from about 9am to 5pm.

Rips and Currents

A ‘rip’ (or a rip current) is a powerful water current that flows away from the shore. It is often very hard to see on the surface of the water.

Rips are the number one hazard on Australian beaches – there are about 17,000 rips at Australian beaches on any given day. They’re also dangerous – if you get caught in a rip, you might find yourself being very quickly pulled by a strong current out to sea.

The best way to avoid a rip is to swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags. For more information and short video tutorials (including multilingual versions), visit Beachsafe.

How to Spot a Rip

Rips are complex, can quickly change their shape and location, and, at times, are difficult to see. You need to look for:

  • Deeper, dark-coloured water
  • Fewer breaking waves
  • A rippled surface surrounded by smooth waters
  • Anything floating out to sea or foamy, discoloured, sandy, water flowing out beyond the waves

Rips don’t always show all of these signs at once, so there might be one secretly lurking beneath the water!

How To Spot A Rip Current
Survive A Rip Current

While floating, rip currents may flow in a circular pattern and return you to an adjacent sandbar. They won’t pull you under the water.

You may escape the rip current by swimming parallel to the beach, towards the breaking waves.

Reassess your situation. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try one of the other options until you’re rescued or return to shore.

Know Your Flags and Signs

It’s important to know how to protect yourself in the water and understand the warning signs and flags, to ensure you remember your trip to the beach for all the right reasons.

When you get to the beach, always look out for flags and signs. These are used by lifesavers to communicate with beachgoers and warn them of any potential hazards or dangerous conditions. Some of these signs are permanent for long term hazards. However, others are put into place each day by the lifeguards to show you hazards present on that day in a specific location such as rip currents which can move from place to place on different days. Theses may include: dangerous surf, closed beaches and marine stingers.

For more information and a full list of beach signs and flags as well as a short video, visit Beachsafe.

Beach Flags

Beach Safety Flags

Red & Yellow Flag

Always swim between the flags

Red Flag

No swimming

Yellow Flag

Caution Required Potential Hazards

Red & White Flag

Evacuate the water

Black & White Flag

Surfcraft riding area boundary

Beach Signs

Warning No Lifesaving Service

Warning No Lifesaving Service

Swimming Not Advised

Swimming Not Advised

Unexpected Large Waves

Unexpected Large Waves

Marine Stingers

Marine Stingers

Sun Safety

Australia has some of the highest UV radiation levels in the world so it’s no surprise that we also have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70, with skin cancers accounting for 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers each year. But the good news is, almost all skin cancers are preventable.

The Cancer Council has five key recommendations for reducing exposure to UV and preventing skin cancer.

For more information about prevention, causes and symptoms of skin cancer, visit Cancer Council.



on sun protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Wear shirts with long sleeves and collars, and longer style shorts and pants.



on SPF 30+ sunscreen. Apply 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours. Don’t forget to protect your legs from reflected UV.



on a hat. Broad-brimmed, bucket and legionnaire styles offer the best protection.



shade whenever you are outside, and make use of portable shade structures where possible.



on sunglasses. Eyes need protection from the UVR too.