Surf Life Saving Australia is Australia’s peak coastal water safety, drowning prevention and rescue authority.
This is extended into known drowning blackspots in order to achieve the Australian Water Safety Strategy goal reducing coastal drowning deaths.
Our research initiatives include projects focused on rip current safety issues, development of a rocky coast hazard rating, bystander rescues, evaluation of safety in surf sport, assessment of adaptions to cope with climate change and general drowning and injury epidemiology.
Rip currents are the number one hazard on Australia’s coastline. There are 17, 00 rips in Australia on any given day, however surveys show that 3 in 4 people can’t spot a rip (National Coastal Safety Survey 2018). Rip currents are a significant contributor to coastal drowning deaths and account for more deaths per year than sharks, floods and cyclones combined (Brander et al. 2013).
SLSA’s National Coastal Safety Survey (2018) revealed that there are 10 million Australian adults who go swimming and wading at the coast and 3.5 million are frequent participants. Furthermore 25% of swimmers say they have been caught in a rip unintentionally.
Young males (15-39 years) are highly represented in the drowning statistics. SLSA undertook behavioral insights research into this high-risk group to better understand their perception of hazards and what motivates them to follow water safety procedures. The findings suggest young men believe they know enough about coastal safety and they are doing enough to remain safe. However, this is not necessarily the case.
The national rip current safety campaign that aims to increase awareness of the rip current hazard and influence risky behaviors, particularly in young men.
The National Coastal Safety Report provides a detailed analysis of annual and long-term coastal drowning deaths. As the nation’s peak coastal water safety, drowning prevention and rescue authority, SLSA undertakes research to understand what, where and when these coastal drowning deaths occur. In 2020-21, there were 136 coastal drowning deaths, 51% of which occurred more than 5 kilometres from a Surf Life Saving Service. This was above the past 17 year average of 114 drowning deaths a year.
The report also includes research into first aid treatments and preventative actions as well as visitation and community perceptions relating to coastal hazards. This analysis provides SLSA with critical evidence-based insights and understanding to address eater safety and education for the community. This report serves as a vital took to assist in understanding and reducing drowning deaths on Australia’s coast and remind all that the data within this report is more than facts and figures, but represent someone’s family, friend or loved one.
Fatal drowning has long been the focus of the drowning prevention community. However, many more non-fatal drowning incidents occur each year. People who survive a drowning incident may experience long-term health complications or life-changing injuries.
Tragically, non-fatal drowning impacts more individuals, families and communities every year. Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2017, there were 7,374 cases of non-fatal drowning in Australia. This is an average of 492 cases of non-fatal drowning each year requiring hospitalisation. Children aged 0-14 years account for 54% of non-fatal drowning incidents, followed by adults aged 25-54 years (22%).
The Australian Water Safety Strategy (AWSS) plays an essential role in National, State and Territory, and community approaches to preventing drowning and promoting safe use of the nation’s waterways and swimming pools. It outlines priority areas where Australia’s peak water safety bodies Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving, and AWSC Members can work together to prevent drowning on beaches, at rivers and lakes, and in swimming pools across Australia.
This new Australian Water Safety Strategy seeks to raise awareness about non-fatal drowning incidents, encourage communities to create local water safety plans and promote access to swimming and water safety skills for all Australians, including refugees, migrants and those living in regional areas.
In addition to skills, the Australian Water Safety Strategy promotes the importance of frontline water safety services, including volunteer surf lifesavers, lifeguards, and swimming instructors.
Coastal Safety Briefs are a series of reports that SLSA produces to examine specific coastal issues in more detail. SLSA has identified 10 priority coastal issues in its National Coastal Safety Agenda, of which six have currently been investigated in a coastal safety brief. The latest report in this series addresses alcohol and drug use on the coast.
The 2021 Lifejackets coastal safety brief presents the trends in Australian drowning deaths and fatalities of coastal activities where the wearing of a lifejacket is recommended. The activities highlighted in the brief include boating, personal water crafts and rock fishing. 70% of coastal drowning deaths since 2004 can be attributed to not wearing a lifejacket.
Omnipoll Market Research has been contracted by SLSA since 2014 to help gain insights into the behaviours and perceptions within the coastal environment. Past annual surveys have collected responses from 16-69-year-old people within Australia and is post-weighted to reflect population distributions in each state and territory. The data collected through the survey includes general demographics, geographic strata, swimming ability, participation trends, hazard perception and safety practices.
The information is currently disseminated through the National Coastal Safety Report, the Coastal Safety Briefs and the National Rip Current Strategy, as well as building a valuable long-term resource that supports our evidence-based Total Service Plan. These studies are carried out in compliance with AS-ISO 20252 – Market, Social and Opinion Research.
Surf Life Saving Australia and the University of NSW have joined forces to save lives along the Australian coastline. The two organisations have a long history of working together. The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signals a growing relationship and a focus towards multi-disciplinary collaboration on research and projects around water safety, drowning prevention, public education, and beach and coastal systems.
SLSA has previously undertaken research programs with UNSW on the rip current hazard on beaches and more recently in relation to bystander rescues, primarily with Professor Rob Brander of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The latter collaboration has resulted in a study published in Feb 2019 titled ‘Characteristics of aquatic rescues undertaken by bystanders in Australia’. The paper addresses the undertaking of aquatic rescues by bystanders, an issue of growing importance within the field of drowning prevention. Bystanders conduct a significant number of rescues that save many lives, but tragically it is not uncommon for bystander rescuers to drown while attempting to save others. The main objectives of this study were to describe characteristics of bystanders making rescues in different Australian aquatic environments, identify the role of prior water safety training in conducting bystander rescues and provide insights into future public education strategies relating to bystander rescue scenarios.
SLSA has a long-running partnership with the University of Melbourne focussing on rocky coast morphology, wave exposure and rock fishing safety.
Rocky coast safety is one of SLSA’s research focus topics, especially around rock fishing. Rock fisher demography and attitudes are different to most other coastal visitors. The sport itself is high risk and the community tight knit and often from a diverse background. This warrants research into different risk mitigation and communication strategies, which is the current focus of the joint research program with Associate Professor David Kennedy and PhD candidate Peter Kamstra from the Office for Environmental Programs at the Faculty of Science. A joint paper busting the myth of the ‘freak wave’ will be coming out in March 2019.
Surf Life Saving Australia has provided support and expertise to many allied lifesaving organisations across the globe. Contributing to the International Life Saving Federation’s global effort to reduce injury and death in, on, or around water, Surf Life Saving exchanges information and best practice and supports the establishment of lifesaving services in areas of the world where they are needed.