Conditions in the water can be treacherous, but technology is being trialled to help swimmers navigate rips.
Conditions in the water can be treacherous, but technology is being trialled to help swimmers navigate rips. Iain Curry

New app helps beach goers spot rips

RIPS contribute to the drowning deaths of more beach goers than any other hazard, which is why Sunshine Coast surf life saving head Aaron Purchase is excited by a new app that helps you spot them.

The app was developed by Samsung Electronics Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia, and is being trialled by surf life savers on the Sunshine Coast

It uses augmented reality and virtual reality to help educate beach goers about rip currents and other hazards.

Life savers enter local danger spot information for each beach and the app, called Pocket Patrol, displays that data for local users.

Given that 95% of beach goers take their smartphones to the beach, Mr Purchase says the app could dramatically improve the safety of our beaches if it's used.

"It's (rips are) definitely the biggest issue that we have on the beaches," Mr Purchase said.

"It's the highest contributing factor to our drownings on the beaches and the source of most of our rescues.

"That's why it's so important that people are educated about what rips are like and how to get out of trouble if you do find yourself caught in one."


EXCITED: Aaron Purchase, Surf Life Saving Australia Sunshine Coast regional manager (left) with life guard Rob Adsett at Alexandra Headland, are testing out the new safety awareness app.
EXCITED: Aaron Purchase, Surf Life Saving Australia Sunshine Coast regional manager (left) with life guard Rob Adsett at Alexandra Headland, are testing out the new safety awareness app. Warren Lyneham

He said it was a myth that life guards and lifesavers should not be approached with questions, and encouraged swimmers to chat with the beach patrol personnel if it would help them identify dangerous conditions and avoid trouble.

"We encourage people to go up and talk to them, ask them what the conditions are like," he said.

"There's always a few hands on deck, and if they've got something going (urgent) on they'll let you know.

"It's really important to swim between the flags, and talk to the lifeguards and life savers on the beach, and they can help you understand how to recognise them."

With two-thirds of beach goers in Australia unable to identify rip currents, the app could have a significant effect if it takes off.

During the pilot program, beach goers at Coolum Beach and Alexandra Headland will be able to use the Pocket Patrol mobile app to learn about hazards at these beaches.

Using the app, the smartphone screen will show an augmented reality view, visually highlighting the position of rip currents, along with other potential hazards like submerged rocks and shallow sandbanks.

Each day, on-duty lifeguards and surf lifesavers will identify rips and other potential hazards and update them in the Pocket Patrol app at the selected patrolled beaches.

Along with the input from on-duty lifeguards and surf lifesavers, the mobile app uses a combination of AR, GPS, image recognition and other technology to visualise identified hazards.

Chief marketing officer and corporate vice president of Samsung Australia, Philip Newton, said Samsung is proud to use its technology and emerging innovations like AR to help support the critical work of SLSA.

"Going to the beach is synonymous with Australian summer and our outdoor lifestyle. Surf Life Saving Australia does an incredible job in protecting beach goers and helping to promote beach safety awareness," Mr Newton said.

"While the best way to avoid a rip is to swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags, educating beach goers on how to identify these hazards is also very important.

"We have developed an AR mobile app to support the work of Surf Life Saving Australia because 95% of people who go to the beach carry their smartphone so it's an education tool that can be readily available to the majority of beach goers."

Coastal safety manager at Surf Life Saving Australia Shane Daw said education was vital to their efforts in reducing risks for beach goers.

"Australia is renowned for its beaches, which are among the most beautiful in the world but they can be unpredictable and many hazards go unnoticed which can lead to tragic results," Mr Daw said.

"Being able to identify potential hazards and understanding the risks associated with them can save lives.

"All too often Australians get into trouble because they either haven't checked for rip currents, can't identify a rip or underestimate the strength of currents. Our advice is simple, don't take them on and swim between the red and yellow flags.

"We are very pleased to be joining forces with Samsung in this trial, to give surf lifesavers another resource to continue educating beach goers of the potential hazards on our beaches."

In addition to developing the app, for those who can't get to one of beaches hosting the pilot program, a Virtual Reality and 360 film has been created so viewers can experience what it might be like to get caught in a rip in virtual reality.

The purpose of the film is to provide a risk free experience to assist in educating and igniting conversations about the importance of beach safety. It will be available on YouTube.

Pocket Patrol signs will be at Coolum Beach and Alexandra Headlands during patrol hours for a four-week period commencing on Saturday October 22.

The mobile app is free to download from the Google Play store and is compatible with select Android devices.

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