More than reality TV: Educating the world about beach safety
The factual Australian TV show Bondi Rescue performs a valuable educational role in teaching people around the world about the dangers of rip currents and the importance of swimming between the flags, a global survey of viewers by UNSW scientists indicates.
The popular series follows Waverley Council lifeguards at Bondi Beach in Sydney over the summer period as they perform about 5000 surf rescues and deal with other problems including shark scares, lost children, bluebottle stings, drunk beach-goers and thieves.
Since it was first broadcast in 2006, the award-winning program has been watched by millions of people worldwide, many of whom are poor swimmers.
"It is difficult to engage large numbers of the general public in any sort of formal beach safety campaign, and awareness of surf hazards remains poor," says UNSW Associate Professor Rob Brander.
"Many beachgoers still choose not to obey key safety messages, such as swim between the flags.
"The filming of Bondi Rescue on a famous Sydney beach provided us with a unique opportunity to find out whether a popular factual TV show could have a beneficial impact on people's behaviour and knowledge about the dangers of surf beaches," he says.
The survey was carried out by UNSW Science research student Nicky Warton under the supervision of Associate Professor Brander, who is a renowned expert on rip currents and beach safety in Australia.
Responses were received from people in 51 countries, with more than 60 per cent of those who filled in the survey living overseas.
"Many people were also in the at-risk group for drowning in the surf because they said they were poor swimmers or rarely go to the beach," says Associate Professor Brander, of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.
"This factual TV program may provide the only beach safety education they get. Our results show it is an effective, large-scale educational tool. It has improved knowledge and behaviour and, in terms of its reach, dwarfs programs like signs, brochures and posters about rips and flags.
"However we also recommend it include more frequent dedicated information about beach safety and rip identification."
Warton also analysed the content of seasons one to eight of Bondi Rescue, and found the majority of rip rescues occurred on fine, sunny days with small waves.
"Males were rescued almost twice as often as females and more tourists – mostly from Asia and Europe – were rescued than Australians," she says.
The UNSW survey's key findings:
- The survey was conducted online via the Bondi Rescue Facebook page and 1852 people filled it out.
- 37 per cent of respondents came from Australia, with 35 per cent from UK and Ireland, 14 per cent from Europe and 10 per cent from North America.
- 43 per cent said they did not know, or were not sure, what a rip current was before watching the show, but 94 per cent knew what it was after viewing the program
- When shown a picture of a beach, 93 per cent chose the area between the flags as the safest place to swim
- More than 80 per cent of viewers think Bondi Rescue significantly improved their knowledge and awareness of beach safety
- 17 per cent felt they had used skills or techniques learnt from the show to assist people in real life emergency situations, mainly by giving advice or using a flotation device
In 2015/2016, 130 coastal drownings occurred and more than 13000 rescues were performed on Australian beaches, according to Surf Life Saving Australia.
Rip currents are responsible for 19 deaths on average each year and about 90 per cent of the beach rescues made by lifeguards.
Associate Professor Rob Brander: + 612 9385 2899, [email protected]
UNSW Science media officer: Deborah Smith: + 61 9385 7307, + 61 478 492 060, [email protected]
UNSW TV video: How to survive beach rip currents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hCZuYzNujI