Rips and undertows. How to reduce the dangers of drowning.

Rips and undertows


This island, Australia, is surrounded by oceans and seas, and there is no better way to beat the summer heat than going swimming in cool, refreshing water. But, as my good friend Publilius warns us, “Fear cannot restrain when pleasure invites.” Too often the pleasure of the swim will override any fear of the hazards, drowning risks, and danger.

According to the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2022, 339 people drowned in Australian waterways from July 2021 to June 2022.

Around 21% of these drownings were at the beach.

At the beach

How good is it when you find that remote stretch of beach with no one else in sight?

Gear off! ( if you’re game…), run down the beach and dive into the welcome relief.


There is a downside, however. When swimming in the ocean we need to be aware of the potential hazards, such as rip currents, undertows, and shallow water.

Rip currents can be dangerous and can pull swimmers out to sea, making it difficult to return to shore.

Diving into shallow water can result in head, neck, or spine injuries.

All of these expose you to the danger of drowning.

What is a Rip Current and how are they identified?

So… You’re on a remote beach. Alone. Being pulled out to sea by a rip current you had no clue was there… No one to help and no idea what to do.

This sure could ruin your day…

Understanding these ocean currents and how to recognise them will help you avoid them or, escape from their pull if caught in one.

A rip current is a narrow, fast-moving channel of water that flows away from the shore.

These currents can be difficult to spot, but they are often found near the beach in areas with breaking waves, such as near sandbars or jetties.

You should spend a few minutes studying the water before jumping in.

Look for:

  • Dark-coloured water which looks deeper with less or no breaking waves.
  • Brown water with foam on its surface out beyond the breaking waves.
  • Rippled water with debris floating out to sea.

Sometimes it can be easier to look for where the waves are breaking consistently, and then look to each side where they don’t break consistently. Those areas are rip currents.

Caught in a rip? What should you do?

It’s important to stay calm, conserve your energy and not panic. If you panic you will be unable to

  1. think clearly,

  2. control your actions.

This will reduce the danger of drowning.

Signal for help by raising one arm and calling out to attract attention.

Float on your back and float with the rip – it may carry you back to shore.

Wait to be rescued.

If you are a strong swimmer and not tired, try to swim parallel to the shore or towards the breaking waves to return to shore.

Never try to swim against the rip, you will only get tired and exhaust yourself.

Avoid getting caught in a rip and reduce the danger of drowning.

The best way to avoid a rip is to swim on a patrolled beach, between the flags.

Look for flags or signs that indicate the presence of rip currents.

Avoid swimming near sandbars or jetties.


Undertows are similar to rip currents, but they occur along the shore caused by large waves or swells. It will not pull you offshore into deep water.

Undertow is typically only dangerous for small children who can’t walk up the beach face against the strong backwash flow.

What makes them different, and more dangerous than a rip, is that these currents can pull swimmers under the water, making it difficult to surface for air.

To avoid getting caught in an undertow, swim on a patrolled beach between the flags, and avoid swimming in areas with large waves or swells.

If you can’t swim to safety, try to signal for help by waving your arms or shouting.

It’s also important to be aware of the ocean conditions such as the weather, the tide, and the waves. High tide, stormy weather or big waves can make swimming more dangerous. It’s always best to follow the advice of the lifeguards and to stay within the designated swimming areas.

Remember, do not swim alone.

A person who is caught by a rip, or undertow may become exhausted and unable to swim or keep themselves afloat any longer. There is a real danger they may drown.

If no one is watching….

Shallow Water

There are a number of ways to sustain head or spinal cord injuries by diving into shallow water. The severity of the head injury or disability depends on the impact and or level of the spinal cord where the damage occurs.

Head injuries can occur when the head impacts rocks, the ocean floor, surfboards, or even other swimmers.

It is possible to damage the spinal cord by:

  • Vertical compression –  where the spine is compressed due to vertical impact with the ocean floor, or other objects, fracturing the spine and damaging the spinal cord.
  • Hyperflexion –  When the head contacts the ocean floor, and the neck is pushed forward beyond its limits. This can tear ligaments, and damage the spine and spinal cord.
  • Hyperextension -These injuries may result from facial or frontal trauma, where the head and neck are forced backwards, damaging ligaments, the spine, and the spinal cord.
  • Rotational injury – where the spine is twisted beyond its limits when the body is tossed around in turbulent shallow water. This can damage the spine and the spinal cord.

Here are a couple of things you can do to prevent head, neck, and spinal injuries at the beach:

  1. DO NOT DIVE into waves or water along the shoreline.
  2. Enter the water feet first.
  3. Swim between the flags on a patrolled beach.

A person who suffers a spinal injury in the water may not be able to swim, float or signal for help.

Once again, if no one is watching, the most likely outcome for them is drowning.


If you suspect someone is drowning act quickly and, without putting yourself in danger,  get them to safety as soon as possible.

Call for help, whether that’s by shouting for a lifeguard or dialling emergency services.

If the person is unconscious and not breathing, roll them onto their side and open their mouth to drain out any water.

Perform CPR. This can keep oxygen flowing to the brain and other vital organs, which can help to prevent permanent damage or death.

To perform CPR, you will need to:

  • Position the person on their back on a firm surface,
  • Perform 30 chest compressions. Pushing down one-third of their chest cavity to compress their heart.
  • Tilt their head back slightly and pinch their nose shut
  • Open their mouth and give two full breaths

Keep going until the person begins to breathe on their own, or until emergency medical services arrive

In summary

We live on an island and most, if not all of us love going to the beach. And we have plenty of beach. According to Geoscience Australia, Australia’s coastline stretches for approximately 34,000 kilometres. And around 50% of us live within seven kilometres of the coast.

Remember, never swim alone, always swim at a patrolled beach between the flags (AS IF! Yeah I know – But you should.) and be aware of the potential hazards such as rip currents, undertows, and shallow water.

If you suspect someone is drowning, it’s important to act quickly and get them to safety as soon as possible, call for help and perform CPR if necessary.

Well, that’s that. Until next time… Stay safe.


Sunburn and summer in a sunburnt country!

Sunburn and summer in a sunburnt country


We all know how hot and dry this time of year can be in most of Australia. Summer, combined with daylight saving – in some states, means outdoor activities, longer exposure to the hot Australian sun, and sunburn, skin cancer, and even heatstroke

Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but it’s important to take precautions to stay safe.

Australians love to get out and about – any time of the year. But we all need to recognise that all seasons bring with them their own risks to our health and safety. / ( just check out our “Wintertime” Blogs ).

The Australian sun is renowned for its fierceness. Ask any English tourist who has gone shirtless for a day on an Australian beach during summer –  OUCH!

Ultraviolet Radiation and sunburn

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV rays penetrate the skin, leading to inflammation and redness.

There are three types of UV radiation, and these are categorised by their wavelength.

They are:

  1. UVA – can cause sunburn, DNA (cell) damage in the skin and skin cancer.
  2. UVB causes skin damage and skin cancer. Ozone stops approximately 85% of UVB from reaching the earth’s surface.
  3. UVC is the most dangerous type of UV however, ozone in the atmosphere absorbs all UVC and it does not reach the earth’s surface.

The UV Index

What is the UV Index?

As UV varies by location and time of day, the UV index helps you by providing warnings about UV levels. You can act on these warnings and take measures to protect yourself.

The UV Index divides UV radiation levels into five categories:

UV index scale

The UV Index is measured in locations around Australia by The Australian Radiation Protection And Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). This real-time data is made available on a daily basis.

To check the UV levels for your capital city go to the ARPANSA website.

Warnings regarding sun protection times are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology when the UV Index is forecast to reach 3 or above.


When the UV Index is forecast to reach 3 or above it can damage your skin and lead to skin cancer.  Sunburn is an indication that your skin has been affected by UV radiation

Sunburn can range from mild to severe, with symptoms including red, tender skin, pain, itching, and sometimes blistering.

To prevent sunburn, protect your skin from the sun’s rays by wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, as well as hats and sunglasses.

Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply it every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Continued exposure to UV at level 3 or above can damage the DNA in skin cells and, if not repaired by the body repeatedly over time, abnormal cells may develop, leading to cancer.

In severe cases, sunburn can lead to fever, dehydration, and even Melanoma.

If you do suffer from sunburn it’s important to take steps to cool down and, for severe sunburn, seek medical attention if necessary.

For sunburn, you can apply aloe vera gel or lotion to the affected area to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, to alleviate pain and inflammation.

sunburn relief

Skin cancer and Melanoma

According to Better Health:

skin cancer death statistic

There are three main types of skin cancer, and they are:

  1. Melanoma
  2. Basal Cell Carcinoma
  3. Squamous cell carcinoma

Watch this space for our blog on Skin Cancer where we will cover skin cancer in greater detail.

For now, remember that you can easily protect yourself from sun damage by

  • staying in the shade
  • using a combination of sun protection measures such as a broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts, and sunscreen.
  •  and if practical, sunglasses.

Don’t just wait for hot and sunny days to use sun protection as UV and sunburn can still reach damaging levels, even on cool, cloudy days.

The Cancer Council provides a free “Sunsafe App” so you can check the UV Index anytime.


Along with sunburn, another summer health hazard to be aware of is heat stroke.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body becomes dehydrated and is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. This can lead to heatstroke.

Symptoms of heatstroke

The skin is dry with no sweating and the person’s mental condition worsens. They may stagger, appear confused, fit, collapse, and become unconscious.

If left untreated, heat stroke can be life-threatening.

To prevent heat stroke, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Other fluids, such as sports drinks or coconut water can also prevent dehydration.

Try to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day and take frequent breaks in the shade or indoors.

For heat stroke, you need to cool down as quickly as possible by getting into the shade or indoors and removing excess clothing. You can also soak your clothing in cool water or place a cool, damp cloth on your skin.

Drinking water or other fluids can also help to reduce body temperature and seek medical attention if necessary.


As Dorathea Mackellar superbly points out in her poem “ My Country”, Australia IS a sunburnt country, a wide brown land – just take a trip to the red centre and see for yourself.

All who live, or visit, here are subjected to Australia’s relentless sun and “Pitiless blue sky”.

Yes, summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but remember, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself and your family when out and about in the sun.

Well, that’s that. Until next time….. Stay safe.