Surf Life Saving Australia Coastal Safety Brief
Rip Currents October 2017
Rip Currents Snapshot 2004 –2016 October 2017 Page 2 of 18
ANALYSIS On average, at least 19 people drown per year as a result of rip currents. It’s the highest number of deaths for an individual hazard or activity.1
COASTAL HAZARD RANK
1st AVERAGE DEATHS PER YEAR
AVERAGE FATALITY RATE
PER 100,000 POPULATION
Swimming/Wading Attempting a Rescue Watercraft Rock Fishing Rock/Cliff Related Diving Snorkelling Other
Australian residents, Australian-born and overseas-born
Swimming/Wading 2 • 9.7 million swimmers • 3.4 million frequent swimmers (at least once a month) • Occasional swimmers average 8 hours per year • Frequent swimmers average 80 hours per year
RIP-CURRENT DROWNING DEATHS TREND 2004–2016
86% WERE MEN
Rip Currents Rip Currents in Australia
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A rip current is a narrow seaward flowing current of water moving through the surf zone. Rip currents are a significant contributor to coastal drowning deaths. There were 230 rip-current-related drowning deaths between 2004â€“2016 on the Australian coast, which is an average of 19 drowning deaths per year. Rips account for more deaths per year than sharks, floods and cyclones combined.3 Most of these deaths occurred while swimming or wading, predominantly at unpatrolled locations or at patrolled locations outside of patrol hours. Rip-current-related drowning activity varies among the states and territory; NSW, QLD and VIC combined represent 79% of the rip-current-related deaths since 2004. Young males aged 16-39 are highly represented in the drowning statics and are a key target group for rip-current-related interventions. This demographic comprises almost one third (32%) of coastal drowning deaths and represent half (50%) of rip current related fatalities. The SLSA National Coastal Safety Survey 2016 revealed that there are 9.7 million coastal swimmers in Australia, and 3.4 million frequent swimmers. Additionally, 59% of Australians swim at the beach or coast at least once per year. The Ipsos Social Research Institute Swimming and Wading Report 2016 highlighted that swimming at the beach is a core part of Australian culture. It is primarily about fun and relaxation. As a result, swimmers typically do not feel that they need safety information and they do not seek it out. Communications regarding rip safety need to be pushed to swimmers and need to challenge their beliefs regarding beach safety.
Rip Currents Location and Activity
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Rip-current-related Fatalities 2004-2016 Total fatalities n=230 Local Government Area with highest incident number shown in map
2004â€“2016 National ripcurrent-related drowning deaths by state (n=230).
Reference: SLSA National Coastal Safety Report 2016
NSW QLD VIC SA WA TAS NT
2004â€“2016 National ripcurrent-related drowning deaths by activity (n=230).
Swimming/Wading Attempting a Rescue Watercraft Rock Fishing Rock/Cliff-related Diving Snorkelling Other
Rip Currents Causal Analysis 2004–2016
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86 35 male years
% Average age of deceased 51% aged15–34 years
22% aged 50+ years 2004–2016 Rip-current-related drowning deaths by age (n=230).
2004-2016 Rip-current-related drowning deaths by month (n=230).
53% December– February
2004–2016 Rip-current-related drowning deaths by time (of known times n=213).
20 15 10
Reference: SLSA National Coastal Safety Report 2016
11 - 12pm
10 - 11pm
9 - 10pm
7 - 8pm
8 - 9pm
6 - 7pm
5 - 6pm
4 - 5pm
3 - 4pm
2 - 3pm
1 - 2pm
12 - 1pm
10 - 11am
11 - 12pm
8 - 9am
9 - 10am
7 - 8am
6 - 7am
5 - 6am
4 - 5am
3 - 4am
2 - 3am
1 - 2am
12 - 1am
Rip Currents Causal Analysis 2004â€“2016
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52 % 19
were swimming more than 1km from a lifesaving service were affected by alcohol/drugs
73 % 14
were swimming or wading
were attempting a rescue
81 % 41 %
Reference: SLSA National Coastal Safety Report 2016
Australian residents lived more than 50km from the drowning location
Rip Currents Participation Profile
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Frequent swimmers swim an average of
hours per year
Occasional swimmers swim an average of 8 hours per year 2
3.4 million frequent coastal swimmers
2016: NATIONAL PARTICIPATION IN COASTAL SWIMMING 66% 59%
20 10 0
of Australians swim at the coast at least once per year
80% Percentage of Population (%)
Percentage of Population (%)
59% 52% 48%
2016 : Age of coastal swimmers
of 16–17 year olds swim at the coast at least once per year
Rip Currents Coastal Visitation
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usually swim at an unpatrolled beach
Patrolled Beach During Patrol Hours Only Patrolled Beach but Not During Patrol Hours Only Unpatrolled Beach Rock Pool Harbour Pool Netted/Enclosed Pool Canâ€™t Say
2014â€“2016 5 Usual coastal swimming location. Q. Where do you usually go swimming in the ocean?
cannot swim or can swim for less than 15 minutes only
17% 14% 4% I cannot float or swim
2016 6 Coastal swimming ability of the Australian public. Q36. Which of the following best describes your current and unaided swimming ability in coastal areas?
swim at unpatrolled locations because they are not always or are never patrolled
I can I can I can I can I can constantly comfortably comfortably comfortably comfortably swim for over 1 float for over 1 float & gently float & gently float & gently hour & float as minute & swim swim for up to swim for up to swim for up to long as I wish a little distance 15 minutes 30 minutes 60 minutes
2016 6 Reasons for swimming at unpatrolled beaches. Q. What are the reasons why you swim or wade at beaches/coastal areas that are not patrolled by lifeguards or lifesavers, or outside patrolled times?
10% 8% 6%
Beach not always patrolled or not patrolled at all
It is a Patrolled Patrolled safe beaches beaches beach/ are too are too calm crowded far away water
I wade More I swim Peaceful/ I'm an I swim Adventure/ or do privacy/ outside quiet/ experienced with risk/ not go isolated patrol relaxing enough others freedom/ in very times swimmer fun deep
Rip Currents Hazard Perception
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2014â€“2016 5 Hazard perception of the beach. Q. How hazardous do you believe the beach to be ?
believe the beach is very or extremely hazardous
Extremely Hazardous Very Hazardous Somewhat Hazardous Not very Hazardous Not at all Hazardous Can't Say
Frequent Swimmers Occasional Swimmers
2015-16 4 Hazard perception of swimming. Q. How hazardous do you believe swimming on the coast to be?
10% 7% Extremely Hazardous
Not Very Hazardous
Not at All Hazardous
Marine Stinger Creatures
Tropical Marine Stinger Creatures
2016 6 Perceived likelihood of being caught in a rip current outside the flags. Q. How likely do you think it is if you swim outside the flags you will be caught in a rip current ?
7% 2% No chance, Very slight Some Fairly Probably almost no possibility possibility good (7 in 10) chance (1 in 10) (3 in 10) possibility (1 in 100) (5 in 10)
2015-16 4 Perception of coastal hazards. Q. How would you rate the following hazards in Australian coastal areas? Percentage of Australian population who believe various coastal hazards are very or extremely hazardous.
Almost Certain, sure practically (9 in 10) certain (99 in 100)
of occasional swimmers do not believe swimming at the coast is hazardous
believe rip currents are very or extremely hazardous
believe there is a fairly good (or higher) chance of being caught in a rip outside the flags
Rip Currents Understanding Rip Currents
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Total Male Female
of men are somewhat or very
3% 3% 3%
confident they can identify a rip current
Not at all confident
Not very confident
2016 6 Confidence to identify a rip current. Q. How confident are you that you could identify a rip current?
of people could accurately identify a rip current
Highly Competent Swimmer
Unable to Swim
2015–2016 4 Ability of swimmers to identify rip currents. Q. Please look at the pictures below [in the survey] and identify the location of any rip currents.
very confident about escaping from a rip current 2016
Not at all confident Not very confident Somewhat confident Very confident Don't know
Confidence to escape a rip current. Q. How confident are you that you could get out of a rip current without assistance?
“They say you can [go with the rip], but if it’s taking you out, that might get a bit disconcerting.” Born in Australia, male, 25–34 years old
Rip Currents Safety Practices of Coastal Swimmers
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do not always swim between the red and yellow flags
never check surf or weather conditions
always look for rip currents before entering the water
2014â€“2016 5 Safety practices of coastal swimmers. Q. How often do you follow these swimming practices? 7% 7%
2% 4% 26%
2% 6% 19%
Most of the time Always
Only swim at a patrolled beach during patrol times
Swim between the red and yellow flags when you are on a patrolled beach
Swim with at least one other person
Check surf conditions with a lifesaver, lifeguard or other authoritative source
Check for and obey safety signs posted on the beach
Look for the presence of rip currents in the area prior to entering the water
Avoid swimming under the influence of alcohol/drugs
Follow the advice of the local lifesaver or lifeguard when you are on a patrolled beach
Rip Currents How to Reach Us
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39% 32% 26%
Other (please specify)
Marine rescue organisation
State government maritime agency
Club or organisation
Bureau of Meteorology
Surf Life Saving
1% Scuba diving company
seek information from lifeguards or lifesavers
2015â€“2016 4 Authorities that coastal/beach swimmers turn to for coastal safety information.
Seek information online
None of these\can't say
Using an app Newspaper on smartphone or tablet
Regular email newsletter
2015â€“2016 4 Places where coastal/beach swimmers usually seek coastal safety information.
Rip Currents Behaviourial Framework for Key Audiences
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Desired Behaviour Change: • • • • •
Swim at patrolled locations Swim between the red and yellow flags Check for rip currents Learn to identify rip currents Learn how to escape from rip currents
KEY SOURCES OF BEHAVIOUR 6 •
CAPABILITY (Knowledge and skills) Psychological
48% don’t always swim/ wade between the flags, when at a patrolled beach
72% don’t always swim/ wade at patrolled locations, during patrolled hours 55% don’t always look for rips
Confidence in their swimming ability, based on: -- previous ‘education’ (including informal guidance from parents) -- a lifetime of experience in the water (despite varied levels) -- surfing experience and ability -- feel safe within the flags, or even just near them, if the lifeguards or lifesavers can see them, or if they are still standing or not going too far out Many lack clarity regarding rip identification and different escape options (especially without assistance) Some (e.g. recent migrants) lack detailed understanding of the risks of swimming in the ocean, especially what rips really are and how they work, and the importance of swimming between the flags
CAPABILITY (Knowledge and skills) Physical
• Swimming competence affects level of caution taken and perceived risk • Limited actual experience, and (where tested recently) varied ability, in escaping a rip or treading water in difficult conditions
MOTIVATION (Brain processes that energise and direct behaviour) Reflective
• Desire to relax and have fun makes it harder for ‘safety’ messaging to appeal to or cut through to the target audience • Many assume they are safe enough if others are swimming nearby • Some prefer non-flag areas or unpatrolled beaches for a number of reasons, including: convenience, space and quiet • Behaviour is limited by certain attitudes (e.g. I am experienced, I am already aware of the rules/recommendations, and I can judge a safe spot)
MOTIVATION (Brain processes that energise and direct behaviour) Automatic
• Safety-related behaviour is somewhat habitual, subconscious • Some (e.g. migrants) haven’t really thought about safety
OPPORTUNITY (Factors outside the individual) Physical OPPORTUNITY (Factors outside the individual) Social
• Some live or park further away from the flags • Some live further away from patrolled beaches
• There is a strong norm to swim between the flags, for most (although not for some more experienced surfers/swimmers) • Some follow their more experienced friends (e.g. in deciding whether it’s safe enough to go in, or when they swim further out) • Friends aren’t necessarily trusted or seen as experts on rips or ocean survival • Lifeguards/lifesavers are an important source of advice, in situ
Rip Currents Key Targets
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Target Segmentation Males aged 15–39 years old Born in Australia and overseas WHO ARE THEY?
HOW DO WE TALK WITH THEM?
The least confident or least experienced swimmers (including recent migrants).
This group tends to be reasonably cautious, once or if they are aware of the risks.
Early awareness is critical among this group. They are relatively easily targeted as they are open to new information.
Everyone in the middle.
This group think they know enough and are doing enough, but this is not necessarily the case.
Communications need to challenge this belief and show swimmers that they are not doing enough to be safe. If it is made clear enough to this group that they lack particular knowledge, they seem to listen.
The most confident or experienced swimmers (including surfers).
This group takes more risks and is harder to convince to stay between the flags, as they think they are experienced enough not to need to. They are (or believe they are) better able to identify rips and (if caught) to escape.
There is a need to challenge this group’s belief that they are knowledgeable and experienced enough by showing them situations where their knowledge is either lacking or inaccurate.
“If it looks calm, I’ll be happier to stay away from the flags.” Born in Australia, male, 25–34 years old
“Once you are experienced enough, you know how to get out.” Born overseas, male, 18–24 years old
Rip Currents Communications
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Communications POTENTIAL BARRIERS 6
Swimmers typically do not feel as though they need safety information.
Information needs to be pushed out to swimmers, rather than relying on them to seek it, providing a strong argument for in situ communications.
Swimming at the beach is a core part of Australian culture… it is primarily about fun and relaxation.
Communications and education need to work with this mindset, not against it (i.e. being well informed will help swimmers and waders to relax and enjoy themselves). Safety messaging should encourage swimmers and waders to stay alert.
Those who grew up in Australia assume they already know what they need to know.
If gaps in knowledge are highlighted (or myths and misinterpretations are challenged), the target audience seems open to new information.
Swimmers tend to feel safe if they are just outside the flags as they believe the lifeguards/lifesavers can still see them. If they swim further away from the flags or at unpatrolled beaches, they typically believe they are doing other things to play it safe. For this reason, lack of a lifeguard/lifesaver patrol is often not a sufficient barrier to swimming.
It is useful to challenge them to reflect upon and rethink their ‘usual’ behaviour, and not let themselves off the hook too easily, as well as to rethink the effectiveness of their safety strategies.
Many are doing the right thing most of the time: that is, swimming within their ability, usually between the flags, and taking precautions (especially in riskier situations).
It is useful to challenge them to reflect upon and rethink the occasional exceptions to their ‘usual’ behaviour (however infrequent they may be), and not let themselves off the hook too easily, as well as to rethink the effectiveness of their safety strategies.
Many swimmers feel a gap in their knowledge about rips and how to identify them. However, in many cases, this lack of knowledge only became apparent to them when they were tested.
Quizzes and the like could be a useful way to demonstrate to the wider population that they need to increase their understanding of the ocean.
“I know there is danger, but I don’t really think about it.” Born overseas, male, 18–24 years old
“I am more worried about being bitten than drowning. In a large swell I know I can swim out, but I can’t fight off a shark.” Born overseas, male, 18–24 years old
Rip Currents Communications Strategy
AWA RE NE S S
AWA RE NE S S
• State the facts about rips. • Challenge people’s perceptions of rips. • Challenge people’s rip identification knowledge.
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B E H AVIOUR CH A N G E
B E H AVIOUR CH A N G E
B E H AVI OU R CH A N G E
• Take awareness and changed perception to give clear directive of new behaviour that’s catchy and memorable. • Encourage consideration of beach conditions and rip current identification. • Stop. Look. Make a safe plan.
• Convey the message people don’t know what they think they know.
• Continue messaging around swimming at patrolled beaches and between the red and yellow flags.
• Sow the seeds of doubt.
• Harder hitting message to impact on behaviour change.
AWA R E N E S S
B E H AV I O U R C H A N G E
Rip Currents Campaign Outcomes from Year 1
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MY THS EXPERIENCED SWIMMERS CAN ALWAYS SPOT A RIP IT'S ONLY TOURISTS WHO GET CAUGHT IN RIPS RIPS ONLY TAKE THE LIVES OF POOR SWIMMERS
FAC T S 2 IN 3 PEOPLE WHO SAID THEY COULD SPOT A RIP, CAN'T IT'S AUSTRALIAN RESIDENT MALES WHO ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE CAUGHT IN A RIP CURRENT RIPS ARE THE NUMBER ONE HAZARD FOR ALL SWIMMERS AT THE BEACH
The first year of the campain targeted rip current awareness by addressing common myths about rip currents. The most important insight is that the campaign is achieveing its objective of challenging beliefs and confidence about rips.
Overall, the campaign has the potential to make the public question their own beliefs, as the level of confidence in rip identification after showing the campaign, is significantly lower than what it was before.
POS T CA MPA IGN A N A LYSIS
O B J E C T I V E
R E S U LT
Increase numbers of people who say they can spot a rip and actually can
to 43% who are confident (51% of those actually can)
Increase understanding people aren't as competent as spotting a rip as they thought they were
confidence before and after seeing the campaign from 42% before to 33% after
Increase the number of people who see swimming at the coast as somewhat hazardous
hazard perception from 52% to 66%
Rip Currents Communications Plan
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What Behaviour Do We Want to Change?
Males, born in Australia and overseas 15–39 years old
Desired Behaviour Change: Swim at patrolled locations Swim between the red and yellow flags
Swimming at unpatrolled locations. Underestimating the rip current hazard.
On average, 19 people lose their life each year in rip currents. Most were swimming at unpatrolled locations.
Who’s Behaviour are We Trying to Change?
Men aged 15–39 years, Australian residents. Born in Australia and overseas.
Potential Barriers to Change
Swimming in the flags is inconvenient. Others are more at risk. Message doesn’t apply to them.
Who is the Active Voice? And Why?
Male voice speaking with authority but colloquially. Challenging targets’ beliefs and myths.
Tone of Voice
Factual. Credible. Not alarmist.
Learn how to identify rip currents Check for rip currents Learn how to escape from a rip current
Rip Currents Methodology
Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Report 2016 The Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Report (NCSR) is published annually and contains information on Australian community behaviours and attitudes to the coast; SLS capability and membership capacity; rescues and emergency response; and coastal drowning deaths. The 2016 NCSR represents the statistics from the period of 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016. Trend analyses from 2004-16 are also included. All care is taken to ensure the statistical information included within this report is correct. However, pending the outcome of ongoing coronial investigations and as SLS state/territory entities update their operational information, this data may be amended.
October 2017 Page 19 of 18
explored reactions to specific campaign concepts, and the qualitative findings helped to shape the subsequent questionnaire used in the quantitative component. The quantitative research phase was carried out from 6-27 November 2015. This component comprised an online survey of n=1,094 swimmers and waders, followed by comprehensive analysis of the data. Given the geographic spread of the Australian coastline, Ipsos SRI used a representative sample of Australian swimmers and waders, involving the application of non-interlocking quotas according to the following demographic characteristics: gender, age, state, and area. Weighting was then applied to the sample to ensure the representativeness of the data was maintained. Data illustrated in figures may not always add up to 100% due to rounding.
Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Surveys The annual Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Surveys collect Information about community swimming ability, behaviours and attitudes to coastal safety. The survey is conducted by Newspoll Market Research and Omnipoll and is run online over a four-day period each April among a national sample of approximately 1,400 respondents aged 16 to 69. The study is carried out in compliance with ISO 20252 - Market, Social and Opinion Research. To reflect the population distribution, results were post-weighted (on age, gender, geographic strata and education) and projected to Australian Bureau of Statistics data.
Ipsos Social Research Institute Swimming and Wading Report 2016 The Ipsos Social Research Institute Swimming and Wading Report 2016 was a result of research comprised of two distinct methodological phases: a qualitative research component, followed by a quantitative research component. Both phases covered similar topic areas: swimming attitudes and behaviours, risk perceptions and strategies, rip current identification and safety, information needs and sources, and interventions. The qualitative research also
References Brander, R., D. Dominey-Howes , C. Champion , O. Del Vecchio , and B. Brighton (2013): “Brief Communication: A new perspective on the Australian rip current hazard” Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 13, 1687–1690, 2013.
© 2017 Surf Life Saving Australia This publication is copyright. Except as expressly provided in the Copyright Act 1968 and the Copyright Amendment Act 2006, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval systems or transmitted by any means (including electronic, mechanical, microcopying, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without prior permission from Surf Life Saving Australia. For enquiries concerning reproduction, contact SLSA on: phone 02 9215 8000; email: firstname.lastname@example.org Every attempt has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright, but in some cases this may not have been possible. Surf Life Saving Australia apologises for any accidental infringements and would welcome any information to redress the situation. Acknowledgements Surf Life Saving Australia wishes to thank Frederic Anne (Omnipoll) for his contribution to this report.
Ipsos Social Research Institute (2016) Swimming and Wading Report 2016 . Ipsos: Sydney Surf Life Saving Australia (2015) National Coastal Safety Report 2015. SLSA: Sydney. Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Survey (2014, 2015, 2016). Newspoll Online Omnibus April 2014 and 2015, and an Omnipoll online panel 2016. Page References 1.
SLSA National Coastal Safety Report 2016
SLSA National Coastal Safety Survey 2016
Reference: R. Brander et al.
SLSA National Coastal Safety Survey 2015–16 (average) 4.
SLSA National Coastal Safety Survey 2014–16 (average) 5.
Ipsos Social Research Institute Swimming and Wading Report 2016 6
Suggested Citation Ryan, A., Rijksen, E., Daw, S. (2017) Coastal Safety Brief: Rip Currents. Surf Life Saving Australia: Sydney.