Safe Summer Swims

Published 12 Apr, 2023

Summer’s on its way and it will soon be time to head back to the beach for long sandy days full of fresh air and salt-water swims. If you and your family love swimming in the ocean, it’s worth knowing how to stay safe in the water and how to spot a dangerous tide.

Watch our video guide on rip currents with Tom & Teddy Ambassador and keen surfer Andrew MacIver, and read our Q&A with Paul Barry, Executive Director from Royal Life Saving Society Queensland.


Executive Director from Royal Life Saving Society Queensland

How to spot and avoid rip currents?

If you’re swimming in a location that you don’t know well, rips can be difficult to spot. A rip is a fast-flowing current of water; If you can see the flow of water, you should be able to see the rip as the water moves away from the shoreline. However, this can be difficult on surf beaches due to the waves and white water. Never be afraid to ask a local or a surfer – they’ll often know where the rips form.

What should a bystander do if they see someone caught in a rip?

Every year I see a story in the newspaper that a child is caught in a rip and a parent jumps in the water (usually without a floatation device) to help them. Most children are fitter than their parents and they’re certainly lighter, meaning a child can float for longer and have a better chance of survival. Unfortunately, in some of these situations, when a parent goes into the water to help, the child ends up floating long enough to get back to the beach, but the parent doesn’t.

One thing to consider is that rips often have larger plunging waves which, when breaking, create white water. White water is water and air mixed together at roughly 50% air and 50% water. The human body can float in water, but not in air, so just being able to maintain one’s head above the water (float) becomes a struggle, and the heavier you are, the harder it is.

A bystander should firstly call for help and should only go into the water if they are a sufficiently strong-enough swimmer to navigate a rip. They should phone Emergency Services who can access life savers and lifeguards. If a bystander decides to enter the water to rescue someone, they should always take in a flotation device –surfboards, body boards or kick boards are ideal.

If you become caught in a rip, what should you do?

Whilst many people know the basic safety message for rips – concentrate on floating, swim parallel to the beach (if possible) or go with the rip out to sea – if feels unnatural not to swim towards apparent safety. Staying afloat in white water can be very difficult, and so people start to panic. This is often the stage when instinct kicks in to escape, rather than concentrate on floating and letting the rip carry them to calmer water.

If caught in a rip, remaining calm is a key and you always wave an arm for help. A weak or moderate swimmer should concentrate on floating as the rip will generally take you out to blue, calmer water, and you will then be able to swim back into the beach. A strong swimmer may be able to swim parallel to the beach before swimming back to the beach, but this swim is hard and it’s not unusual for this to be a 200m (or more) swim at fast speed.

What is the safest way to swim at the beach?

Always swim between the flags. Most beaches have safety signage and it’s worth taking a few moments to have a look at these signs as they will usually give specific information for that beach.

What advice would you recommend for weak swimmers?

  • There are a few things I’d recommend: 
  • Never swim alone and ask locals about the swimming conditions. 
  • Develop a plan of what to do if you get caught in a rip. 
  • Take a flotation device with you as, if you encounter a rip, it will help you to stay afloat.  
  • Signal for help as soon as you can. 

Do you have any tips for the prevention of drowning?

If you’re not a strong swimmer, practice and improve your skills in a public pool, which will always have lifeguards on duty.  

 The general safety messages are:

  • Never swim alone. 
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before swimming. 
  • Wear a life jacket when on the water. 
  • Learn how to resuscitate someone.
  • Know your skills and limitations in the water.

For more information on rip currents and water safety be sure to go visit: