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Being wise about water safety in Australia

Going to the beach is a common pastime in Australia
Going to the beach is a common pastime in Australia.

Unsplash CC: Alvin Balemesa

Australians love being in and around the water, particularly during the hot summer months, and it's a common pastime for international students too. But how do you ensure your trip to the beach or river doesn't end in tragedy?

Three international students have drowned in the past week in Australia.

Their deaths have been part of a disastrous start to summer with more than a dozen people drowning since Christmas Day.

Twenty-two-year-old student Frank Wang from China, told AM overseas students are attracted to Australia by images of sandy beaches and warm weather but many don't learn how to deal with rips and river currents before it's too late.

"Australians love swimming, and a lot of international students will learn that in Australia, but they may not get enough training before that."

- Frank Wang

The University of Technology Sydney student says he didn't receive any information on water safety when he arrived in Australia to study, and there were no swimming pools or swimming lessons in the Chinese town where he grew up.

He'd like to see more water safety videos on all incoming international flights, especially in the lead-up to summer.

"Because a lot of international students will come here by the air plane, so maybe they can provide information on the plane, you know, when they enter Australia."

Staying safe at the beach

Surf Life Saving Queensland safety officer Chantal Fife told 612 ABC Brisbane one of the main traps swimmers face in the surf are rips, which are strong currents flowing away from the shore.

"There's is no doubt that rip currents are one of the biggest dangers on Australian beaches," says Chantal. "Particularly if people don't know how to spot them.

She says the best thing to do if caught in a rip is to stay calm.

"People need to conserve their energy by floating on the water and raising their arms to attract attention of lifeguards or passers-by."

- Chantal Fife

Surf Life Saving Queensland also suggests people don't go out any deeper than waist height water when swimming in the ocean.

"A good rule of thumb is to stay around your belly button height so you can jump over waves and duck dive down but your feet are staying on the sand," Chantal says. "People often panic the minute their feet come off the sand."

Only swimming at patrolled beaches during patrolled times is the easiest way to stay safe over summer, she says.

And if you don't like waves at all, there are plenty of other places you can go swimming.

In Sydney alone, there are ocean baths, pools with a view and more sheltered harbour beaches.

Staying safe around other waterways

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Royal Life Saving's Respect the River campaign.

More people drown in Australian rivers and other inland waterways than anywhere else, according to Royal Life Saving - Australia.

As part of their Respect the River campaign launched in October 2015, they are trying to raise awareness of the number of people who drown in rivers and how these deaths can be prevented.

Royal Life Saving says there are four river safety tips people should keep in mind whenever they're enjoying Australian rivers: wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life.

Water safety information in your language

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Beach safety information from Surf Life Saving Australia

Surf Life Saving Australia has made a video of their top five beach safety tips that is available in multiple languages on their Beachsafe website.

The website also provides up-to-date information about every beach in Australia, including what conditions are like at the beach, whether or when it is patrolled, the safest place to swim and any hazards visitors should be aware of.

The same information can be accessed on their Beachsafe app, and translated into multiple languages.

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