Beach and sun safety

Learn how to stay safe and understand the risks, so you can enjoy your time in the sun.

Staying safe while at the beach or in the sun

Australia has great weather conditions to enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Australia's climate varies throughout the country. There are four different seasons in most locations and a wet and dry season in the tropical north. It is important to plan and research temperatures and rainfall.

Here are some tips on how to stay safe and understand the common risks so you can enjoy your time in the sun.

Sun safety

The sun in Australia can be strong. It's important to know how to stay safe in the sun to reduce dehydration, sunburn and cancer risks.

To avoid damage from the hot sun:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor 50+ (SPF50+). Be sure to apply the cream 20 minutes before going outside or in the water. Then re-apply after swimming. 
  • Wear a hat and UV-protective sunglasses. 
  • Avoid long periods in the sun. The sun is at its hottest between 10 am and 4 pm. You can still burn on cloudy or overcast days, so follow the tips above even when it’s not sunny. 
  • Check the UV index before you plan to be outdoors.
  • Download the SunSmart App. It can inform you when to apply sun protection.

If you experience sunburn:

  • Prevention is best. But you may not realise you can still get sunburned even on a cloudy day. As soon as you notice your skin getting red or sensitive, or you feel a stinging sensation, seek shade and apply after sun cream.
  • Drink plenty of water.

For more tips, read the Skin Cancer Foundation’s blog on how to treat sunburn.

Lifeguards and beach safety

Lifeguards keep you safe on patrolled beaches. Beaches patrolled by lifeguards are the safest to swim. Look for the red and yellow flags. 

If you don’t see any red or yellow flags, there aren’t any lifeguards on duty. This means you should avoid swimming at these beaches. 

If you are at a non-patrolled beach, locate the Beach Emergency Number, which will be on a sign. This is a coding system to help if emergency services need to reach anyone at a beach.  

You can find the nearest patrolled beaches by checking out the Beachsafe App

Rip currents 

Rip currents are where the water flows fast from the shore, towards the open sea. These are dangerous. They are one of the most common reasons for people to drown at an Australian beach.  

To avoid being caught in a rip current: 

  • Only swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards. 
  • Swim with someone else. 
  • Swim between the red and yellow flags. 
  • Swim during the day. 
  • Swim if you are a confident swimmer. 
  • Don’t swim if you have been drinking alcohol. 
  • Know how to recognise a rip current. If you are unsure, ask the lifeguards or locals.  
  • And avoid water with seaweed or litter. Also, stay away from water that has foam on the top or is a brown or darker colour and doesn’t have breaking waves.  

If you are caught in a rip current: 

  • Keep calm and raise your arm to seek help - a lifeguard or another swimmer may help rescue you. 
  • Float on your back with the current and rip as this may return you to shore. 
  •  If you are a strong swimmer, try to swim parallel to the beach or close to the breaking waves to get back to the shore. 
  • Don’t swim against the rip. You could quickly become tired. 

Marine animals 

Certain marine animals, such as jellyfish, can cause pain or a reaction if you touch them. They can be dangerous on the water, but also if they’ve washed up on the sand.   

To avoid being hurt by marine animals:

  • Beaches tend to have signs warning you of which marine animals to look out for. 
  • Be observant in and around the water. 
  • Wear protective clothing such as a wetsuit if you suspect dangerous marine animals. 
  • Enter the water slowly so that marine animals can move away from you.  

If you are hurt by a marine animal such as a jellyfish:  

  • Seek help from a lifeguard in the first instance if they are nearby. 
  • Follow the steps provided by the Red Cross on first aid for someone with a jellyfish sting.