Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
 | Highlight paper
22 Apr 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 22 Apr 2013

Rip current related drowning deaths and rescues in Australia 2004–2011

B. Brighton, S. Sherker, R. Brander, M. Thompson, and A. Bradstreet

Abstract. Rip currents are a common hazard to beachgoers found on many beaches around the world, but it has proven difficult to accurately quantify the actual number of rip current related drowning deaths in many regions and countries. Consequently, reported estimates of rip current drowning can fluctuate considerably and are often based on anecdotal evidence. This study aims to quantify the incidence of rip current related drowning deaths and rescues in Australia from 2004 to 2011. A retrospective search was undertaken for fatal and non-fatal rip-related drowning incidents from Australia's National Coronial Information System (NCIS), Surf Life Saving Australia's (SLSA, 2005–2011) SurfGuard Incident Report Database (IRD), and Media Monitors for the period 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2011. In this time, rip currents were recorded as a factor in 142 fatalities of a total of 613 coastal drowning deaths (23.2%), an average of 21 per year. Rip currents were related to 44% of all beach-related drowning deaths and were involved in 57.4% of reported major rescues in Australian locations where rips occur. A comparison with international operational statistics over the same time period describes rip-related rescues as 53.7% of the total rescues in the US, 57.9% in the UK and 49.4% in New Zealand. The range 49–58% is much lower than 80–89% traditionally cited. The results reported are likely to underestimate the size of the rip current hazard, because we are limited by the completeness of data on rip-related events; however this is the most comprehensive estimate to date. Beach safety practitioners need improved data collection and standardized definitions across organisations. The collection of drowning data using consistent categories and the routine collection of rip current information will allow for more accurate global comparisons.