Connect with us


Why Phuket needs a new beach safety education program (video)



Robert Brander is a coastal geomorphologist and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Dr Brander completed a master’s degree at the University of Toronto and a PhD on the morpho-dynamics of rip currents at the University of Sydney. He has been studying beaches and surf science since 1986.

Here, he talks about what can be done in Phuket to improve beach safety and awareness of rip currents.

PHUKET: Standing on Karon Beach in late June this year, I was amazed to see what looked like an Australian surf beach. While most visitors associate Phuket with lovely placid waters, this isn’t the case during the southwest monsoon season, which occurs between May and October each year. Strong winds and storms generate persistent waves and hazardous surf conditions for both visitors and locals alike, particularly those who are unaware of the potential dangers, or are unfamiliar with strong surf.

Tragically, each year, many people drown on beaches like Karon and Patong, usually as a result of getting caught in a rip current.

Rip currents are strong, narrow flows that take water brought towards the beach by breaking waves back offshore. People who lose their footing can unexpectedly be carried significant distances offshore by these “rivers of the sea”, usually against their will. They may panic, become exhausted and, in far too

YouTube video
Robert Brander demonstrates the movement of rip currents at Karon Beach. Video: PGTV

many cases, drown. During the southwest monsoon, rip currents are prevalent along most exposed Phuket beaches.

Despite this hazard, rip current drownings are avoidable. If someone doesn’t get caught in a rip, they won’t drown in one. Thanks to efforts by organizations such as the Phuket Lifeguard Club, many popular Phuket beaches are now lifeguarded. Each day, lifeguards erect pairs of red and yellow flags to designate supervised and safer swimming areas, and red “no swimming” to indicate dangerous swimming conditions, often in the vicinity of rip currents. However, while these efforts are commendable, it is not enough.

First, not all beaches have lifeguards, and those that do are patrolled only during the prime daytime swimming hours. Many people swim outside of these hours, including at night, when the flags and safety signs are removed from the beach. On unpatrolled beaches, or outside of patrol hours, perhaps the only thing keeping people safe when they enter the water is their own knowledge and awareness of surf hazards such as rip currents, or luck. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that most Phuket beachgoers are aware of rip currents, know what they are or what they look like, or how to react appropriately if caught in one.

Given this situation, Phuket needs a dedicated beach safety program. All beachgoers, both locals and visitors alike, need to be further encouraged to seek out lifeguarded beaches and swim only between the red and yellow flags. In the absence of lifeguards, beachgoers should be advised not to go in beyond waist depth when breaking waves are present. In particular, beachgoers should be specifically made aware of the presence of rip currents.

Improved awareness can be achieved through the development and implementation of a standardized beach safety education program that is strongly visual-based and multi-lingual in content. Aside from involving improved signage and widely-available brochures, a safety video for Phuket beaches can be developed for communication to locals via schools and tourists via social media. The use of footage from releases of harmless purple dye into a rip current, similar to a demonstration I made at Karon Beach recently, is an engaging, non-threatening and visually powerful tool that could be incorporated into such a program.

Indeed, there was much support from resort managers present at the dye release to improve rip current awareness of their guests. However, none of this will be achieved without a formal study into the beach safety issue on Phuket, collaborative efforts between lifeguard organizations, tourist agencies, resorts and hotels and local governments and, of course, funding. Until this happens, the drowning rate on Phuket beaches will likely not improve.

— Robert Brander


Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Chiang Rai6 hours ago

2018 Thai cave rescue inspires new attraction in Chiang Rai

Thailand6 hours ago

Thailand News Today | New traffic rule to affect entire country

Economy6 hours ago

Robots now serving people at Thai restaurant chain

Sponsored15 hours ago

LASIK eye surgery with state-of-the-art procedures in Thailand

Bangkok7 hours ago

Patiphan explains to police: It was my twin brother Patiphat!

Thailand7 hours ago

Woman faces jail for trafficking girls after karaoke raid in Thailand

Weather7 hours ago

South Korea’s capital sees record rainfall, at least 9 killed

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Protests8 hours ago

Amnesty International urges Thailand to free activists and return bail rights

Drugs8 hours ago

Truck leads police on 100km chase over shockingly small drug stash

Chon Buri8 hours ago

Chon Buri police couldn’t find victim of car crash on back seat

Phuket8 hours ago

Phuket expects recent India road show to bring in even more tourists, and revenue

Press Room8 hours ago

Jungceylon undergoes renovation to become a one-stop shopping paradise

World9 hours ago

Pakistani Taliban commander reportedly killed in Afghanistan

Tourism9 hours ago

Europeans lost in Koh Pha Ngan forest found by tourist police

Chon Buri10 hours ago

Mountain B fire death toll rises to 16

Bangkok10 hours ago

MRT says Bangkok won’t suffer any Seoul-type metro flooding

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11