Gold Coast Beach Safety
Bringing people from all corners of the globe, are the magnificent Gold Coast beaches. Stretching over 52 kilometers, the vast coastline is popular with visitors and locals alike. Although the Gold Coast oceans may seem like paradise perfection, there are some very important beach safety tips you should know when visiting any beach in Australia.
1) Sun Safety
Australia has the highest skin cancer rate in the world. More than 3600 Queenslanders are diagnosed with melanoma each year. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the invisible killer that you can’t see or feel. UV radiation can be high even on cool and overcast days. This means you can’t rely on clear skies or high temperatures to determine when you need to protect yourself from the sun. Most skin cancers can be prevented by the use of good sun protection, so tips from the Cancer Council are to:
► Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible
► Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen
► Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
► Seek shade
► Drink plenty of water in moderation to avoid dehydration
2) Know the Flags
The beach is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. Although it can be very fun, it can also be unpredictable and dangerous to people who are unaware of the hazards. That’s why lifeguards who understand the beach use a system of flags and signs to advise the people who visit with the things they need to know.
The most important flags on the beach are the red and yellow flags. These show the supervised area of the beach and that a lifesaving service is operating. If there are no red and yellow flags, you should not go swimming. Remember: If surf lifesavers or lifeguards can’t see you – they can’t save you.
RED & YELLOW: Always swim between the red & yellow flags
RED: No swimming
YELLOW: Caution required. Potential hazards
RED & WHITE: Evacuate the water
BLACK & WHITE: Surfcraft riding area boundary
Safety signs are also put in place to warn you about the permanent and occasional hazards that are present in the environment. Some of these signs are permanent for long term hazards. However, others are put into place each day by the lifeguards to show you hazards present on that day in a specific location such as rip currents which can move from place to place on different days.
3) Rip Currents
Rips are strong currents of water flowing away from shore through the surf zone, to the depth of the ocean. 3 in 4 people can’t spot a rip current, making it easy to take swimmers from shallow water to several hundred metres offshore within a matter of minutes.
If you are caught in a rip remember to stay calm, raise your arm for help and wait to be rescued.
► Never try to swim against a rip.
► Don’t panic, and conserve your energy.
► Float with the current until it releases you.
► If you are able, swim parallel to the shore or towards breaking waves and use them to help you in.
The best advice is to avoid rip currents altogether by swimming between the red and yellow flags, observing all safety signs, and obeying instructions from surf lifesavers and lifeguards.
4) Marine Stingers
Australia’s waters are home to many interesting and fascinating creatures, including jellyfish, some of which can be the cause of painful stings! Although they are generally quite easy to avoid, they can cause discomfort if you are stung. The intensity and severity of a sting varies on a range of factors including the type of stinger, location of the sting, and the health and fitness of the victim. The bluebottle (named after its appearance) is probably the most well-known jellyfish around the Australian coastline.
Look for marine stinger signs at patrolled locations or ask a lifeguard/lifesaver if marine stingers are present. If you are stung by a jellyfish the best course of action is:
► Alert a lifeguard/lifesaver if possible
► Wash off any remaining tentacles or pick off with your fingers (they can’t usually sting through the tough skin on your fingers!)
► Immerse the sting in hot water (no hotter than can be easily tolerated)
► If local pain is not relieved, the application of cold packs or wrapped ice is also effective.
► Refer to medical aid for further treatment if condition deteriorates.
Just a quick note on methods that do NOT work. Lifeguards are often amused and entertained by the many strange and bizarre treatments people try to relieve the temporary pain of a non-tropical marine sting, such as;
- Rubbing sand over the sting (it just gives you a rash around the sting)
- Pouring soft drinks over the sting (just makes it sticky)
- Pouring vinegar over the skin (is vitally important for TROPICAL marine stings, but not for non-tropical stings)
- Urinating over the sting (it’s just gross, and doesn’t work anyway!)
5) Marine Creatures
When swimming in the great oceans of the Gold Coast, you may see whales, dolphins, stingrays, fish, and very rarely maybe a shark. For the safety of swimmers, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries implements a shark control program along our Gold Coast beaches. Shark control equipment is set up on beaches patrolled by lifesavers or lifeguards.
- The equipment consists of drum lines and nets.
- It was introduced here in 1962.
- It is designed to deter sharks more than two metres long.
- There has never been a fatal attack on a Gold Coast beach with shark control equipment in use since 1962.
There are also many types of sharks around Australia. Most are harmless to humans. Although humans fear sharks, they are an important part of the ecosystem and a reality of the ocean. There are some very simple tips you can use to minimise your chances of encountering a shark at the beach:
► Avoid swimming at dawn and dusk
► Avoid swimming at river mouths or in canals
► Avoid swimming in murky or discoloured waters
► Avoid swimming in or around schools of baitfish
► Avoid swimming when bleeding
► Avoid swimming alone
► Leave the water immediately if a shark is sighted (very rare)
6) Don’t Drink & Swim
► Never swim directly after a meal or under the influence of alcohol.
If you do hop into the water right after you eat, you could develop cramps and risk drowning. Never go swimming while intoxicated. Drinking and swimming never mix. Just like driving, operating machinery and other activities that are dangerous when you’re intoxicated, swimming when you are impaired can be deadly. Drinking dulls your senses, slows your reaction time, impairs your judgment and generally makes it much more dangerous in and around water.
7) Do Not Leave Bags Unattended
While the Gold Coast is regarded as a safe city, it’s always best to never tempt would-be thieves.
► Never leave your bag, valuables, or phone unattended if you are in the water.
Have a friend watch over your belongings while you are swimming or leave any valuables locked in the car or in your room. Beach lockers are also available for hire in popular locations such as Surfers Paradise beach.
8) Put Litter in the Bin
As beautiful as the Gold Coast beaches are, it is important to keep them that way! The destructive effects of pollution in our oceans and waterways is staggering and far-reaching, it’s estimated over 100 million marine animals including fish, turtles and whales die each year due to ingestion, entanglement, and suffocation of plastics and rubbish.
► Ensure you collect all rubbish and garbage and dispose of it in the bins provided near the beach entrance. This way we keep our shores clean, save marine wildlife and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.
9) Always Supervise Children
While lifeguards and lifesavers are there to watch over you and your children when in the water, children require constant attention and parent/adult supervision when visiting the beach or around any body of water. A lack of direct adult supervision regularly results in lost children or in the worst cases child drowning deaths.
Supervision of children is vital and the best form of supervision at the beach is to actively interact with your children. This means that children should always be within arms reach and observing them should be your constant focus when around the water.
10) Visit Patrolled Beaches
Most beaches are patrolled for your safety 8am – 5pm every day. The Gold Coast is home to some of the best beaches in the world.
► Visit the Gold Coast City Council website for the list of patrolled beaches and times.
For more beach safety tips, weather, and information, please visit www.beachsafe.org.au