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Evaluating the impact of skill development for drowning prevention: a relationship-building approach to community engagement
  1. Peter Kamstra1,
  2. Brian R Cook1,
  3. Robert Brander2,
  4. Jasmin C Lawes3,
  5. Hannah Calverley4,
  6. Grace Strugnell4,
  7. Beata Kiss4,
  8. James Bond1,
  9. Shane Daw3
  1. 1School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Surf Life Saving Australia, Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Life Saving Victoria, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Peter Kamstra, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3052, Australia; peter.kamstra{at}


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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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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  • Contributors PK, BRC, RB, JCL and HC designed the main study methods and data collection tools. PK prepared documentation for the ethics committee. PK, BRC, HC, GS and BK collected the data. PK, BRC, HC, GS, BK and JB planned and conducted the data analysis. All authors drafted the manuscript with revisions additionally from PK, BRC, RB, JCL and HC. PK is the guarantor for this manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.