Sun & Surf Safety

Most Australians live near the coast which means swimming, water sports, and sunbathing are popular, especially on the weekend. On a sunny weekend thousands of Aussies will head for a park or beach to picnic, swim, surf, sail or sunbake.

A downside of fun in the sun and surf is the associated increased risk of skin cancer and drowning.

To enjoy the outdoors safely here are two important tips:

  • Always wear sunscreen and a hat when outdoors in the sun for extended periods of time, especially between 12-2pm. The Sun Smart website has some useful information and alarming statistics on the prevalence of skin cancer in Australia

People with pale skin should be especially careful in the sun. Without sunscreen your skin can start to burn after about 15 mins exposure to the strong Australian sun. The weather reports on television, websites and newspapers include a UV (Ultraviolet Radiation) forecast so keep an eye out and be prepared for high UV days.

Sunscreens are widely available in supermarkets and chemists. You can buy sunscreens in Australia now which offer a sun protection factor of 50+. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends you use sunscreen labelled broad spectrum, water-resistant, and SPF30+ or above. Any sunscreen must be applied liberally and re-applied every two hours (or after swimming, exercising and towel drying). Sunscreen should be applied in addition to wearing sun hats, protective clothing, and sunglasses.

Getting sunburnt is an unpleasant experience and can result in dehydration and a general feeling of being unwell. It can also result in skin cancer.

In 1980, the Cancer Council of Australia released the most successful campaign in the history of community health campaigns. Their campaign ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ featured Sid the Seagull who ‘slipped’ on a shirt, ‘slopped’ on some sunscreen and ‘slapped’ on a hat while singing a catchy jingle ‘In the sun we always say Slip, slop, slap’ reminding Australians of the three easiest ways to prevent skin cancer.

In 2007 the campaign was updated to include the words ‘seek’ (seek shade) and ‘Slide’ (slide on wrap-around sunglasses) as additional ways of preventing skin cancer.

Make the most of the beautiful climate in Australia but don’t forget to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide’.

  • Swim between the flags
    Two yellow and red flags are placed on the beach to indicate the safest section of the surf which is patrolled by lifesavers. Swimming outside of these flags, could place your life and the lives of others who may try to help you in real danger.

The Water Safety website has some useful information on how to keep safe in the water at the beach including:

  • Only swim between the yellow and red flags. These flags mark the safest area to swim
  • Always swim at patrolled beaches (whilst there are many unspoilt, beautiful and secluded beaches in Australia, you swim in them at your own risk)
  • Never swim, surf or fish alone
  • Read and obey any signs you see at the beach
  • Be aware of rips and currents (know how to spot one and what to do if you get caught in one)
  • Don't swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Never run or dive in the water, even if you have done this before as water conditions can change
  • If in doubt about the safety of the water stay out
  • Seek advice from lifesavers and lifeguards

Before you head to the beach you can visit the Beach safe website

This website will help you find your closest beach, if it is patrolled, what facilities it has (toilets, café/kiosk, shady areas) and what the conditions of the surf are (temperature, swell, and wind speed) on that day.

Finally, be aware that whilst they are rare, shark attacks can and do happen. Keep alert to any sirens, alarms or loud speaker announcements telling you to leave the water. If a shark is spotted (only on patrolled beaches) then the lifeguards will order you to leave the water.

Popular beaches across Sydney have been netted or partially netted since 1937. However, as recent as January 2015 Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach was evacuated after a shark sighting in the vicinity of bathers. You can read the article here.

This article covers general information on Moving to Australia? Sun & Surf Safety, and doesn't take your individual circumstances into account. Please use it as a guide only.

Sources: SunSmart, Australian Water Safety Council; Beachsafe , Sydney Morning Herald