the most dangerous rip prone beaches in australia

3 April 2012 20:11:00 AEST

Sitting behind the gloss of the brochure statistics of Australia's whitest sand / bluest water and most picturesque beaches lies a far darker set of facts. In the past 5 years, 90% of our 174 coastal drownings in Australia were due to people being caught in ocean rips.

Rips are a peculiar phenomena. It is basically imperceptible to the human eye but any beach with wave action will have a slightly higher water level on the shore than further offshore, due mainly to the build up of energy close to shore. The natural tendency is for this higher level of water to retreat back out to sea. On a beach without a significant weakpoint in the sand bar system, the retreating water slips beneath the waves forming an undertow on its way back out. On a typical sandy beach with a weakpoint in the sand bar system, the retreating water breaks through and forms a 'rip'. Contrary to popular belief, undertows do not randomly suck people vertically down to a watery doom, rips are far more dangerous. The fast moving water of a rip often appears eerily calm from the shore, the deeper water in the rip channel one of the most dangerous features for inexperienced swimmers. Many people are capable enough swimmers to 'survive' a rip but the natural instinct to try to swim against a rip as opposed to exiting parallel to the shore is often too great. The topography of some beaches makes them very prone to life threatening rips. Lets examine some of the worst:

Bondi Beach, NSW - Historically, Bondi Beach is still one of the most rip prone beaches in Australia. On 06 Feb, 1938 - a day that became known as Black Sunday, 250 people were rescued after a series of large waves created a significant rip that drowned another 5. A semi permanent rip to the south of the beach known as 'backpackers express' routinely deposits unwary tourists into a life threatening situation. Despite the number of life savers on duty, Bondi suffers drowning fatalities.

Fraser Island, QLD - Remote beaches, no lifesaving patrols and plenty of surf may have the makings of a perfect surf trip but it can and has turned to tragedy on Fraser Island in the past. Powerful rips especially to the north of the island are best avoided by swimmers and inexperienced surfers alike.

Tamarama Beach, NSW - Tamarama is considered to be the most dangerous patrolled beach in Australia. The deep water and narrow strip of beach generate dangerous waves in even moderate swells with more rescues per 1000 bathers than any other beach in Australia. Best watched from the beach in any swell over 2 metres.

Moruya Heads, NSW - A popular holiday spot unfortunately unpatrolled and prone to dangerous and unpredictable currents courtesy of the nearby breakwall construction. Dont let the smalle waves fool you, the rips here can clock at several knots - enough to transport young swimmers from the shore right into danger in a heartbeat

Byron Bay, NSW - Byron is easily one of the most recognisable beach set ups in Australia. Warm weather and seemingly moderate surf entice many swimmers to proceed out well beyond their limits. Tragically, two men died at Byron courtesy of a rip the very day that Matthew Barclay's memorial service was held further south at Kurrawa Beach - a beach with its own sad history of life saving fatalities. The two men were swimming in an unpatrolled stretch in Byron.

Stanwell Park, NSW - The south coast of NSW is home to a string of drowning tragedies. If not for the swift action of life savers many of these events would have been far worse. in January 2011, a group of 30 swimmers was swept into a rip after a series of heavy waves. This was another example of the sandbar collapse phenomena that occurred on Bondi during Black sunday. One man died, another was resuscitated and many more narrowly escaped. During the same swell event, another man dies when a group of three were caught in a rip near Port Macquarie.

Gold Coast, QLD - 2010 was officially he worst year for drownings in Australia with 62 people losing their lives over the Christmas period. The Gold Coast saw several of these fatalities over the period. Despite he legendary presence of lifesaving clubs along the Gold Coast strip, the sheer number of inexperienced tourists combined with a significant swell event is always a recipe for disaster.

Henley Beach, SA - Its all or nothing at many beaches in South Australia either flat and calm or seriously dangerous. South Australian life savers dont have the same powers to close beaches as many of their east coast counterparts do. As such they sometimes sit back in frustration as their advice goes unheeded. In January 2008, 6 people died in rips on beaches around Adelaide over a 5 week period.

Whilst we have only highlighted a selection of beaches above, remember that rips can form across most of Australia's 11000 sandy beaches at any time. Always swim beween the flags and if in doubt....don't go out.

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