There are different safety rules for beaches, rivers, lakes and public or private swimming pools. Obey all water safety signs, don’t drink alcohol while recreating around water, or when supervising children around water, and make sure there’s someone looking out for you.
You should also be aware of the local water environment and weather conditions before entering the water.
Check the weather
It's important to check the weather before you head out for water activities. Here are some basics you should always check:
- Weather warnings for your activity area
- Weather conditions – will they affect your safety or comfort?
- Wind conditions and expected wind changes.
For marine waterways:
- Wave conditions and heights
- Times for high and low tide.
For inland waterways:
- Flood warnings issued for your activity area.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides a forecast service, flood warnings and marine services for local waters, coastal waters and open ocean activities.
You can check the UV index and find out what times sun protection is required during the day on the Sun Smart website.
Coastalwatch provides surfcams and a daily analysis of upcoming surfing conditions for all popular surfing regions around Australia.
EPA beach report
In summer, EPA Victoria provides water quality forecasts for Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River. There are three forecast ratings:
- Good – Forecast water quality is suitable for swimming.
- Fair – Forecast water quality may not be suitable for swimming.
- Poor – Forecast water quality is not suitable for swimming.
Swimming at a beach with poor water quality can cause sickness and infections. After rainfall, stormwater flows into the bay through drains and rivers. You should not swim near these areas for 24–48 hours after it has been raining. If you see pollution in the water or on the shoreline, call EPA's Pollution Hotline on 1300 EPA VIC.
At the beach
Fifty-seven of Victoria’s most popular beaches are patrolled by lifesavers during the summer months, until the season ends at Easter. Information about patrolled beach locations, and times, is available on the Beachsafe website.
Remember, always swim between the red and yellow flags, and never swim alone.
Rips are the number one hazard on Australian beaches. On any given day, there are about 17,000 rips at beaches around Australia.
Can you spot a rip? Life Saving Victoria and Surf Life Saving Australia have been working with The Age to produce an interactive resource aimed at educating people about rip currents, how to spot them and what to do if you are caught in one.
Surf Life Saving Australia also has range of educational videos available online about rip currents, including:
A range of multilingual resources about rips are also available on the Surf Life Saving Australia website.
Inland waterways, including rivers, creeks, lakes and dams are great for water recreation, but it is important to remember they have many hidden dangers, such as submerged objects, debris and strong currents.
Royal Life Saving recommends the following four safety tips for rivers:
- Wear a lifejacket.
Avoid alcohol around water.
Never swim alone.
- Learn how to save a life.
Respect the River campaign
Did you know the Yarra River is the top third drowning black spot in Australia? Alcohol is a contributing factor to 80% of these cases. Alcohol impairs judgement, encourages greater risk taking behaviour, reduces coordination, impairs reaction time and reduces the effectiveness of CPR.
In association with Royal Life Saving Society Australia, Life Saving Victoria has produced six short videos outlining the hidden dangers of the Yarra River.
Water safety at home
Water is fun and enjoyable for children. However, it can also be a safety hazard to young children.
- Never leave your child alone in the bath, or in the care of an older child.
- If you have to leave the bathroom, take your child with you.
- Always empty the bathtub, buckets and sinks immediately after use.
Home pools and spas
Home pools and spas are a real danger for young children and are required by law to have suitable safety barriers. Never take your eyes off children around water.
- Always supervise children in and around the pool.
- Ensure your pool/spa fence is compliant – check and maintain it regularly.
- Never leave pool gates propped open.
- Always empty inflatable pools and paddling pools immediately after use.
- Ensure your children learn to swim.
- Learn CPR and display a resuscitation chart on your pool fence.
More information and tips on keeping children safe around water is available on the Kidsafe Victoria website.
A 'child safe play area' can be used to restrict children's access to water that you cannot fence on rural properties.
- Fill in unused holes where water can gather.
- Securely cover water storage such as wells and tanks.
- Ensure all gates on your property are closed.
The Farm Safe website has instructions on setting up a child safe play area on farms.
New pool and spa barrier laws
On 1 December 2019, new laws to improve swimming pool and spa safety came into effect in Victoria. They introduced new registration, inspection and certification requirements for property owners.
These changes require owners to register their pools and spas with their local council by 1 November 2020 (an extension from the original 1 June deadline).
More information is available on the Victorian Building Authority website.
Public swimming pools
Parents supervise, lifeguards save lives.
Your local public pool is a great place for the whole family to swim and participate in water programs.
- Lifeguards provide professional supervision for all pool users – parents/ carers still need to watch their own children around the water.
- Children under five should be within arm's reach at all times; children under 10 should always be in your sight.
- Ensure your children learn to swim – enrol them in a swimming and water safety program at your local pool.
Safety for aquatic activities
Personal flotation devices must be worn at all times* on:
- Powerboats up to and including 4.8m.
- Off the beach yachts and paddle craft.
*When in an open area of a vessel, which is underway.
Boating is a great way to enjoy Victoria's coastline, lakes and river systems.
- Always wear your life jacket — you may not have time to put it on in an emergency.
- Always tell family or friends where you are going and when you will be returning.
- Always carry safety equipment aboard.
- Run regular maintenance checks on your boat.
For more information about boating safety and legislation call 1800 223 022. Information is also available on the Maritime Safety Victoria website.
There are widespread fishing opportunities in Victoria, from freshwater lakes and rivers to saltwater fishing in bays, inlets and oceans.
- Unless you are exempt, a fishing licence is required when taking, or attempting to take, any species of fish in Victoria.
- Never fish alone.
- Check water and weather conditions before you go.
- Always tell family or friends where you are going and when you will be returning.
You can obtain a fishing licence, or find out more information, on the Victorian Fisheries Authority website.
Life jackets save lives
If you are not properly prepared, rock fishing can be dangerous.
- ALWAYS tell friends or family of your plans – where you are going and when you will be returning.
- SEEK out local advice on your intended fishing spot – tidal behaviour and accessibility.
- NEVER fish alone. One person should watch the sea at all times as conditions can change dramatically in a short time.
- CHECK water and weather conditions before you go.
- WEAR a personal flotation device and carry safety gear and a first-aid kit.
- DON'T wear waders when rock or ledge fishing – wear light clothing that will allow you to swim easily if you are washed in.
- WEAR appropriate footwear with non-slip soles.
- OBSERVE first and fish later. Take time to judge your intended spot before fishing to get an idea of tidal and sea conditions plus access and escape routes.
- HAVE an escape plan. If the swell threatens your position, leave immediately.
- ALWAYS obey danger signs and never trust access and escape aids such as ropes and makeshift steps.
- NEVER turn your back on the sea.
Surfing and Body Boarding
Assess the conditions, including wave sets and rip currents.
- Always surf or bodyboard with a mate.
- Check and assess conditions before you head out in to the surf.
- If you get in trouble, stay on your surfboard or bodyboard to stay afloat.
- Ensure you surf outside the black and white quartered boarding flags at patrolled beaches.
Beginner surfers should start with a lesson from a Surfing Victoria affiliated surf school.
Snorkelling and Diving
Snorkelling and diving open up a whole new underwater world, but it is important to follow a few simple rules to stay safe.
- Call the Divers Alert Network (DAN) 24-hour Diving Emergency Service 1800 088 200 if you have a medical emergency during or after a dive.
- Always snorkel/dive with a buddy and stay with your buddy in the water.
- Don't snorkel or dive if you are feeling unwell.
- Train with a recognised dive school.
More information is available of the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Asia-Pacific website.
Ensure your children learn to swim by enrolling them in a swimming and water safety program.
Water safety skills are an integral part of lessons and help children to develop confidence and be comfortable around water.
There are many learn to swim programs offered throughout Victoria. Lessons are available through:
- School programs
- Your local aquatic centre or swim school.
Most pools run classes for adults too – it's never too late to learn!Water Safety Programs