Story Nathan Torpey | Images Surf Life Saving Queensland
People travel from all around the world come to Queensland to enjoy its laidback beach lifestyle, but their relaxed approach to swimming safety can be dangerous.
Going to the beach in Queensland during summer is considered a rite of passage for many, but Surf Life Saving Queensland has warned visitors to brush up on beach safety.
Over the last 10 years, 77 people have died as a result of beach-related incidents.
In the last decade, 72.7 percent of all drownings occurred less than a kilometre from a patrolled beach.
The SLSQ 2017 Coast Safe Report found swimmers weren’t aware of the dangers of entering the surf at unpatrolled locations, with 22 drowning deaths occurring within 200m of patrolled areas. Another 21 deaths occurred more than two-and-a-half kilometres away.
Life Saving Services Coordinator Jacob Thompson said there had never been a drowning between the red and yellow flags.
“The most frustrating thing is that these (deaths) all happened outside of patrolled beaches,” he said.
“If the beach is closed, or the flags are placed in a particular spot, it’s done for a reason – to ensure safety.
“People become complacent in surf conditions and forget that the ocean is a dangerous and unpredictable place.”
Across Queensland, 29 drownings occurred on Gold Coast beaches, followed by 20 throughout the Sunshine Coast and 11 in north Queensland.
Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast proved to be the most dangerous with seven deaths, then Green Island in north Queensland with six.
Mr Thompson said Surfers Paradise and Green Island had been identified as coastal blackspots and were particularly high-risk locations for beachgoers in 2017-18.
“We are working to target those blackspots and will try to reach our vision of zero preventable deaths,” he said.
“Surfers Paradise has been on our list for some time – swimmers face increased danger when entering the water between dawn and dusk.
“For Green Island, our concern is snorkelling and diving fatalities – snorkelling deaths are quite high and we are working to ensure that tourists are safe.”
During 2016-17, the Sunshine State’s high temperatures meant record crowd numbers of more than 20.7 million attended Queensland beaches, an 11.6 percent increase on the 18.6 million beachgoers the year before.
The high number of beachgoers led to increased rescues, with 2561 swimmers saved – 70 percent of those were rescued while swimming outside the flags. Another 150 were rescued more than a kilometre away from the nearest patrolled service.
Mr Thompson said most disturbing was the number of school-age children that required rescuing, with 729 children pulled from the sea.
“Children aren’t as experienced or skilled as they should be,” he said.
“Parents need to get their kids into swimming lessons and schools need to assist by making swimming part of the curriculum.
“Children are known to panic in those situations and this is why parents and carers play a vital role in helping keep them calm.
“We aren’t babysitters, we expect parents to remain at the beach and watch their children in the surf.”
Australian Medical Association Queensland Vice President Dr Jim Finn said beachgoers should be aware of the danger outside of the water and be vigilant about sun safety.
“Just because we are surrounded by water doesn’t mean we can’t become dehydrated and suffer other heat-related illnesses,” he said.
“Heatstroke can cause death – people can die from hyperthermia when the body shuts down and you can no longer regulate your temperature.
“We see many cases over the summer months with people trying to tough it out.
“If you’re feeling uncomfortable and have a racing pulse or headache, you should get out of the sun to a cooler environment and try to cool down your body.”
Dr Finn said beachgoers must be sun-conscious, with Queensland remaining the skin cancer capital of the world.
“We know on an average weekend 14 percent of adults, 24 percent of teenagers and eight percent of children receive a sunburn,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be doing that – they should be slip, slop, slapping, wearing a hat and applying 50+ sunscreen every two hours, even if it is water-resistant.
“The sunscreen itself is not armour, it can extend your time in the sun but won’t replace other sun safety devices.”
RACQ LifeFlight helped rescue 11 people involved in near drowning incidents in 2017, airlifting them to hospitals around the state. Four were rescued from Queensland beaches, four from backyard pools and three from waterways on Fraser Island, Moreton Bay, North Burnett and the Sunshine Coast.
Beachgoers have also been warned to keep a close eye on their belongings including car keys, following a spate of thefts across the state.
“Opportunistic thieves have been known to take keys from beach belongings, and simply walk through the car park pressing the unlock button until they find the right car to steal,” said RACQ’s Kirsty Clinton.
“We’re warning people to be extra careful when at the beach, either keeping their keys on them, or well-hidden in belongings they keep a sharp eye on at all times.”
A recent survey revealed most Queenslanders did not know where to put their belongings while swimming.
“Some of the silly habits people have confessed to include burying their keys in the sand or attempting to hide them on the tyres of cars,” Ms Clinton said.
“People should carefully consider whether wearing or taking valuables to the beach is absolutely.”
“We also highly recommend the buddy system where you and a friend take turns swimming while the other is watching over your valuables.”