A review has found Australia’s beach safety programs are not being evaluated. 

Researchers from UNSW have conducted the first in-depth review specific to coastal drowning.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, reviewed 146 coastal drowning studies from around the world.  

It finds that evaluation of coastal drowning prevention strategies is rare, meaning experts and government agencies do not have enough data to know what works and what does not. 

“There was only one study worldwide – involving a private primary school in Queensland - to see if beach safety education program is effective in schools,” said William Koon, lead author of the study.

Since the review, an additional school-based evaluation of water safety virtual reality programs in Victoria has been published.  

Mr Koon said the review’s findings are concerning as tens of thousands of Australian primary and secondary school students participate in beach or water safety programs from lifeguards and lifesavers every year.  

“There is remarkably little information out there to say [firstly], does it work and [secondly], here’s how it works best,” Mr Koon said.  

“We need to assess if programs function as intended, and continually refine them to improve effectiveness.”

Professor Rob Brander said he finds it “interesting that over the last 16 years we haven't really seen any improvement in the number of coastal drownings each year in Australia, despite lots of ongoing school and public education programs”. 

Mr Koon said there has been “remarkably little information” studying prevention measures.  

“Research on danger signs on beaches has already told us that people don’t really look at signs, and if they do, are not really influenced to change decisions or behaviour,” he said.

“We’re still in the stage where most programs are driven by expert opinion without much supporting data.”