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323 Rip currents: An update on the number one coastal drowning hazard
  1. Belinda Cooper,
  2. Shane Daw,
  3. Jaz Lawes
  1. Surf Life Saving Australia, Sydney, Australia


Rip currents are strong, narrow, and often channelised currents of water flow offshore through the surf zone and beyond. Common features on Australian beaches rip currents are significant contributors to coastal drowning deaths, representing the number one coastal hazard.

Between 2011–21, 264 rip-current-related coastal deaths were recorded, 96% due to drowning (n=254). This annual average of 26 rip-related deaths is above the previously reported average of 21. Most deaths occurred to men (86%; n=227) while swimming or wading (62%; n=163), further than 1km away from a surf lifesaving service (59%; n=154) at unpatrolled locations during patrol season (50%; n=131;).

Beaches are the dominant location (85%; n=224), which is unsurprising given the coastal processes involved in rip current formation. Rips are more likely to occur in energetic, wave-dominated beaches, with four beach types classified as rip-dominated. Understanding beach typology and coastal processes may serve to increase awareness of how certain beach types may be more hazardous than others.

The National Coastal Safety Survey (NCSS) surveys the community to understand their behaviours, attitudes, and perceptions around the coast with a strong focus on rip currents. The most recent survey (NCSS2021) reported that 3.7 million Australian adults have ever experienced being caught in a rip current, of these 47% occurred at unpatrolled locations or outside of patrol times, 19% reported being assisted by others (including surfers), and almost two-thirds managed to swim or float and escape the rip current themselves (70%).

Understanding these risk factors help to develop strategic steps to continue increasing awareness about this important public safety issue.

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