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Evaluating the impact of skill development for drowning prevention: a relationship-building approach to community engagement


Objective Evaluate the impact of a broadened theoretical and empirical model of community engagement aimed at coastal drowning prevention via relationship building between lifeguards and beachgoers through the delivery of skill development sessions on the beach.

Setting A lifeguard-patrolled beach in Lorne, Victoria, Australia, during the 2023 peak summer holiday season.

Methods In total, 12 skill development sessions were delivered by teams of lifeguards and risk researchers to beachgoers. Sessions were codesigned by the research team and shared with lifeguards beforehand to review and include lifeguards’ interpretations of localised risk during delivery. In total, 85 survey interviews were conducted with self-selecting beachgoers post participation.

Results In total, 79 participants (93%) enjoyed participating in the session(s) and 77 participants (91%) reported learning something new. Learning how to identify rip current (n=59) and escape a rip current (n=40) were the two most commonly learnt skills. Participants’ intended changes in future beachgoing behaviours (n=46) include asking lifeguards at patrolled beaches how to identify site-specific (rip current) risk (n=11) and attempting to identify a rip current before entering the water (n=10). The spillover effects of participation include sharing what participants had learnt with family and friends.

Conclusions Creating a dialogic model of collaboration via participatory community engagements between lifeguards and researchers with the beachgoing public can successfully prompt learning drowning prevention skills. These skills are required when navigating dynamic coastal hazards at unpatrolled beaches. Supporting lifeguards and life-savers to provide skill development expands the ways that life-saving services can engage the public, including measurement of lifeguards’ contributions to coastal drowning prevention.

  • Behavior Change
  • Public Health
  • Drowning
  • Recreation / Sports
  • Case Study
  • Community Research

Data availability statement

No data are available. To protect participants' anonymity, no data is available beyond what is used in the results section of this manuscript.

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