Enjoy the sun, sand, and sea responsibly with our top tips.

Spring is here, and a new season on the Beaches is about to start. In its national 2022/2023 Summer coastal drowning statistics, Life Saving Australia found that from December 2022, 28 of 54 drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales, the highest number ever recorded.

With the Beaches renowned for rips, we spoke to Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches Chief Executive Officer, Tracey Hare-Boyd, about how to enjoy the water safely.

Tracey says that the lifesaving season starts on 23 September and ends on 28 April 2024. The volunteers patrol on weekends and public holidays throughout the season. They have their work cut out for them, with over two million visitors to the Northern Beaches last season.

Swim in patrolled areas

Choose beaches with lifeguards on patrol. Volunteers provide a vigilant eye on swimmers, quick response to emergencies, and essential rescue equipment. Unpatrolled beaches can pose higher risks as help might not be readily available in case of trouble. “At an unpatrolled beach if you are in difficulty, there won’t be anyone watching on you, and it will take longer to get resources to help,” Tracey says.

“Within our branch, we have 21 beaches from Manly to North Palm Beach, and many of our drownings happened at unpatrolled beaches. There were no lives lost during our patrolling times,” Tracey says.

Always between the flags

The red and yellow flags demarcate the safest swimming area determined by lifeguards based on current conditions. “Flags mark the safest part of the beach, and we’ll choose the safest section,” Tracey advises. “The patrol won’t open the beach if there’s no safe section. And if the conditions change, we might lower the flags, reassess the conditions, and move the flagged area into a better position.”

In other words, staying within these flags minimises the chances of solid currents or hazardous areas. And always remember, if there is no flag, the beach might be closed for safety reasons, and it’s recommended there be no swimming.

Know your limits

Understand your swimming ability and comfort level in the water. Stay within the shore or enter deep waters if you’re not a strong swimmer. Swimming in areas that match your skill level significantly reduces the risk of getting caught in unexpected situations. “That means if you’re not comfortable, don’t do it,” Tracey says. “If you can’t have your feet on the bottom, don’t go very deep,” said Tracey.

Stay sober in the water

“It’s always good to remind people that alcohol and drugs combined with swimming don’t mix,” Tracey warns. “It’s not a good relationship. Your ability, coordination and reflexes are impaired.”

To ensure your safety and that of those around you, avoid consuming alcohol or drugs before hitting the waves.

Always let someone know

Before heading into the water, let a friend or family member know where you’ll be and how long you plan to swim. This small step can prove crucial if you run into trouble or need help. It ensures that someone knows your whereabouts and can alert lifeguards if required.

Also, ‘always make sure that you keep an eye on your kids. Then, if anything happens, you can’t see them, or if you haven’t been able to find them for 10 minutes, always let the patrol know. It’s always better to do something sooner rather than later,’ Tracey concludes.