As drowning deaths soar to extreme highs this summer, frightening new research from the country’s peak lifesaving body has found 70 per cent of Australians who believe they can identify an ocean rip actually cannot.
It’s a misguided confidence that claims, on average, 20 lives each summer.
Coastal drowning deaths jumped by 24 per cent in 2015/16, according to Surf Life Saving Australia’s annual report, and the upward trend looks set to continue this year, after a horror spate of drowning deaths over the Christmas and New Year period.
The number of people who drowned in New South Wales over the holiday period doubled the number who died on the state’s road, during one of the deadliest times of the year.
SLSA National Coastal Risk and Safety Manager Shane Daw said on any given day across Australia, there are 17,000 rips in the ocean.
But research by the SLSA has revealed a vast disconnect between those who believe they can identify one and those who actually can.
Mr Daw said of 1400 Australians surveyed, 70 per cent of men said they could confidently identify a rip, while 50 per cent of women said the same.
In both groups, just one in three of those people actually could.
Mr Daw said it was an overconfidence that meant many Australians could be unwittingly risking their lives every time they go for a swim.
“Drowning due to rip currents one of the highest causes of drowning deaths we have,” he said.
“For all people who said they could identify a rip current, two out of three people were incorrect.
“It’s a big disconnect.
“There is a definite overconfidence. A lot of people said they know they should swim between the flags but don’t believe it applies to them.”
Last year’s SLSA annual report revealed a staggering 89 per cent of drowning deaths in 2015/16 were men, the vast majority aged between 15 and 39.
That too, is a trend that appears to be continuing this year, with coastal drowning deaths across Australia since the beginning of summer almost exclusively men, Mr Daw said.
“During the Christmas New Year period the number of drowning deaths around the country have just been extreme,” he said.
“We haven’t seen this sort of number in this time period in at least a decade, it is rather extreme, and what we do know is males are still over-represented.”
He said men in particular often had a higher level of confidence in the ocean than women, who were more risk averse.
This, combined with the fact that vastly more men than women participate in ocean activities, goes some way in accounting for the over-representation of men in the annual drowning statistics.
In response to the results of its survey, SLSA has released an instructional video on how to identify a rip, which is playing on all Virgin Australia flights throughout the summer.
With lifesavers at patrolled beaches across the country continuing to pluck people swimming outside the red and yellow flags from the surf, Mr Daw urged everyone, no matter how experienced they are with the ocean, to view it.
“We want people to be aware rips can exist on any given beach at any given time and we want them to change their behaviour,” he said.
“Firstly, we want people to swim at patrolled locations between the red and yellow flags.
“But if they won’t do that, secondly, they need to learn what a rip is so if they do go to a beach, they can minimise the risk.
“This is also vital if should they be in a location where there is not a patrolled area.”
Mr Daw said in addition to those who believed they could confidently identify rips, those who could not often unwittingly found themselves in trouble by purposely choosing an area of surf that was deceptively calmer.
Tags: Surf Life Saving