Horror Christmas drowning death-toll prompts urgent calls for rip safety

By: Cassandra Morgan

Published: 29 December 2016 Image credit: Surf Life Saving

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As NSW’s drowning death toll for the festive season jumps to six, and the search continues for 14-year-old Tu’ipulotu “Tui” Gallaher, who disappeared during a swim at Sydney’s Maroubra Beach on Tuesday night, authorities have urged tourists and locals to be more cautious in the surf.

Boxing Day alone claimed four lives, including a 60-year-old Grafton man, who entered the water in a bid to save his four nieces who were caught in a rip off a beach in the state’s north.
 
A couple of rips were also found where missing teen Tui was last seen, as Surf Life Saving Sydney conducted their search and rescue mission.
 
Rescue efforts resumed yesterday morning, after earlier being called off due to poor conditions.
 
“There’s no doubt that rip currents are one of the biggest dangers on Australian beaches, particularly if you don’t know how to spot them in the water,” said Surf Life Saving Queensland’s operations support coordinator Jason Argent in a recent release.

“Overconfidence can be a big issue when it comes to rip currents, particularly amongst that younger male demographic.”

Of the 280 people who died from drowning in Australian waterways between July 1 last year and June 30 this year, 83 percent were male.

Australian beaches claimed the most lives compared with lagoons, creeks, rivers and other waterways.

“We’ve found that a lot of people who think they can spot a rip actually can’t, and a lot of people mistakenly think they don’t need to worry about rips because they’re strong swimmers,” Mr Argent said.

“It’s important to understand that rips don’t discriminate and, tragically, in the past we’ve seen all sorts of people, from international tourists right through to regular beachgoers, drown after they were swept out to sea by a rip they didn’t even know was there.”

Mr Argent said that beachgoers should always protect themselves against rips by swimming at patrolled beaches only, in between the red and yellow flags.

Rips can be identified by darker channels of water with fewer breaking waves, while sandy-coloured water extending beyond the surf-zone can also indicate the presence of a rip.

Mr Argent said that because these areas often look calmer, swimmers can wrongly assume that they are the safest places to swim, and that’s when they get themselves into trouble.

However, if you do get stuck in a rip, there are a few things you should do to minimise the risks.

“If you find yourself caught in a rip, it’s really important that you try to stay calm, conserve your energy as much as possible by floating in the water, and raise your arm to attract the attention of lifesavers or lifeguards,” he said.

“Whatever you do, never try to swim directly against the current. The majority of drownings attributed to rip currents have come after swimmers have begun to panic and tried to swim against the current, leaving them too exhausted to keep their heads above water.

“Instead, if you’re comfortable doing so, you can escape a rip by swimming parallel to the beach and then allowing the waves to assist you back to shore.”