We interrupt normal programming for this public service announcement. It takes less than a minute to drown – how to read the surf

In the last week three children, the eldest with severe autism, were orphaned after their mum went into the surf to help two of them in trouble. She got the kids out but then got into trouble herself. So the dad went in to help his wife and the mother of his three children. The two of them drowned in a rip on one of the many stunning but unpatrolled beaches of Australia.

Yesterday another dad drowned in a rip after going in to help his two sons and their friend who had got in trouble.
People, the beach in all its stunning beauty is a mighty dangerous place to be if you do not understand what it is capable of. Even I was stunned to read this morning that our beach is rated a 7 out of 10 in terms of hazard. Dudes, the beach in which we frolic is regarded as highly hazardous.
Basically every beach has a rip. It’s not a tide, it won’t pull you under, it’s a current that pulls all the water that’s come into the beach back out again. Some beaches have several permanent rips, where the beach is between two headlands there will pretty much always be a rip at one or other or both of the headlands.
They’re sneaky buggers because a rip looks like the safest place to swim as there are less breaking waves.
If you are holidaying somewhere on the coast where the beaches are not patrolled the advice is not to go in. Easier said than done when you’re away and holidaying during the height of the Australian summer. That’s some sort of Coleridgian water water everywhere but not a drop to swim in kinda sentiment that is just not going to wash with many. SO, get yourself to a high point, survey the beach and work out where the rips are and avoid them.
The beachsafe website has awesome fact sheets and information about beach safety.

The Rip Currents website has everything you need to know including a five point survival plan for when you get stuck in a rip here. The key is to not panic and to swim parallel to the beach. Do NOT try to swim against the current. You’ll get tired and start to freak out.

Also, just take a few minutes to watch this:

Enough kids have been orphaned by natural disasters in the last few weeks. We’ve made the boys watch this video a few times now and the bigger boys school had the guy in the video come and talk to the kids about the science of the surf.

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  • blackbird

    How great they did a video!
    One of the beaches we love on the Cape posts lifeguards IN the water every six feet or so as the riptide is very strong in one particular area.
    Be safe
    be SMART.
    Then, have fun…

  • Anna

    Couldn't agree more!

    I'm not a strong swimmer myself so I never swim at unpatrolled beaches (yes I'm also a touch paranoid).

    It is so easy to forget how dangerous the water can be and how suddenly you can get into trouble.

    Education is definitely key – if more people knew what to do in situations like this, it would make such a big difference.

  • fifi

    AH! FOUND IT ! 🙂

    As a marathon swimmer and ex lifeguard

    even I would not swim alone at an unpatrolled beach.
    Hear that y'all? Not even me.
    Have been thinking about this a lot lately. I may sound incautious, but in reality I'm not.
    It only takes 12 seconds to drown, and I've pulled too many people out of rips to be complacent.

    Nippers is such a fine institution!!

  • Mary

    Wish i had been able to show the boys this before we swam at the South Coast at unpatrolled beaches – will show them now though

  • Elizabeth

    Great info in this post Kim. Our kids do surf awareness at school (cos we life close to the coast) and we never swim at unpatroled beaches.
    Both the stories you mentioned were heart breaking.

  • Anonymous

    I had never heard about that, so I learned something new. You know, for when I'll visit down under.
    Than you. It's a shame people don't pay attention to this serious matter and end in tragedy.

  • BabelBabe

    I grew up near the beach and the swim parallel advice is ingrained.

    and pls don't drown, I'd miss you. cuz it's all about me, dude.

  • no blog norma

    excellent , thanks for that, i learnt something new , i am a scaredy cat in the water … good stuff to know….

  • Fe

    For the last 7 years, we have spent 10 days every January on an unpatrolled surf beach on the South Coast of NSW.

    The great thing about this is that I have taught my boys to spend at least 10 minutes looking at the surf and spotting the rips before they go in for a swim. We are all strong swimmers, and none of us EVER goes in on our own, but I have still always emphasised the respect that they must have for the dangers of the surf.

    We stay in the shallows, and there are some days when we don't go in at all because the surf is too violent to accurately spot the rips.

    Still, my heart is in my mouth whenever they are in the water.

    Thanks for the vid, Kim. I'm going to show it to my boys when they get home this afternoon. Hopefully it will add to their skill in recognising where NOT to swim.

  • sewjourn

    Thanks for posting……it's such vital info for everyone but sadly it's not just in rips that people drown. Please, please, please everyone don't take your eyes off your children for a second no matter where they are swimming…..even if you think it is in a controlled environment. There have been WAY too many drownings this summer.