Beachgoers' beliefs and behaviours in relation to beach flags and rip currents

Accid Anal Prev. 2010 Nov;42(6):1785-804. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2010.04.020. Epub 2010 Jun 1.


Background: Coastal drownings claim on average 82 people per year in Australia. Beach flags are a primary safety strategy used on beaches. They are located away from rip currents, which are the main beach hazard affecting swimmers. Little is known about the behavioural and motivational factors associated with people choosing where to swim in relation to flags and rips.

Aims: To assess the beliefs and behaviours of beachgoers in relation to beach flags and rip currents.

Methods: Beachgoers at beaches in NSW were interviewed about their swimming beliefs and behaviours. They were asked to indicate on pictures depicting beach scenarios involving beach flags and fixed rip currents, where they would and would not swim. Logistic regression analysis was undertaken to determine predictors of correct and incorrect swimming behaviour.

Results: Beachgoers who are aged from 30 to 49 years (OR 0.34, 95% CI 0.16, 0.74, p=0.006) are less likely to choose to swim between the flags than other swimmers. In addition, beachgoers who are at the beach with children are significantly more likely to choose to swim between the flags (OR 2.74, 95% CI 1.39, 5.40, p=0.004). Beachgoers with basic knowledge about rip currents are significantly more likely to swim away from the rip (OR 11.59, 95% CI 5.89, 22.81, p<0.001).

Discussion and conclusions: Ocean swimmers aged from 30 to 49 years may choose to swim outside the flags, though they may not necessarily be swimming in the rip. Swimming outside of the flags may be linked with experience. The flags appear to be attractive to parents and carers of children. Whilst the flags indicate a relatively safe area of the beach, it is still vitally important for parents and carers to supervise children in this area. Basic rip current knowledge is an essential component in developing national interventions aimed at reducing coastal drowning. Beachgoers clearly need to know what a rip looks like in order to actively avoid swimming in it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bathing Beaches / standards*
  • Child
  • Culture*
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Data Collection
  • Drowning / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales
  • Safety / standards*
  • Water Movements*
  • Young Adult