Life's a Beach

Stay safe and savor Melbourne's distinctive beaches with key tips: watch for sharks, spot rip currents, and heed beach flags.

4 min. read

We’re heading into Summer soon, YAY!! And yes right now Spring doesn’t feel like Spring at all. 
Because Melbourne.

(Sadly our weather is the fodder of many head-shaking dinner table conversations.)

But hey, Summer will soon be here and if you’re new to Australia you must be excitedly planning a visit to one of our glorious beaches!  After all, we are bordered with a pretty spectacular coastline which most of us can access within a 50km radius of our homes.

But those picturesque powdery white beaches edged with turquoise waters and white-tipped waves, overlooked by warm sunshiny blue skies that you’ve seen in the travel brochures? You’ve got to go north to Queensland or head west to Western Australia for them.

Here in Melbourne, the waters of Port Philip Bay tend to be quite flat and greyish blue, with a sky to match.  If surfing beaches are what you’re after, you’ll need to head an hour or two out of our nice safe and sedate Port Phillip Bay and hit the ocean beaches to our east and west. However a warning:  given our proximity to the South Pole, these waters tend to remain coolish until well into the summer.

So, no, we don’t have those picture-perfect white sandy beaches of the north and west.  

But we also don’t have poisonous jellyfish, salt water crocodiles, stinging blue bottles, venomous brown snakes or those nasty great white sharks as ocean bedfellows.  

(An aside:  A comparison between ours and the rest of the Australian coastline is much like considering the difference between Italy and Switzerland. Italy is full of drama and unpredictability, while Switzerland is neutral and safe.  But Italy produced Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bernini, Armani, Prada….  And what has Switzerland produced?  Rolex and Toblerone.  Mountains of chocolate which take eons of time to remove from your hips.)

To be honest, we do tend to attract some sharks here in Victoria on the odd occasion.  Quite frankly though, attacks from our infamous sharks are actually not as prevalent on our Australian beaches as people might think - in fact they say you are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark.  However just to be on the safe side, I would not advise swimming at night, at dusk, or at dawn, when sharks are most active; and don’t swim in murky waters; or those areas used by recreation or commercial fishers; or where seals and dolphins hang out.  

Look to be doubly safe,  do me a favour and download the Vic Emergency App on Google play or The App Store to be informed of shark sightings throughout Victoria;  and watch this video from the Victorian Fisheries Authority  to make sure you are Shark Smart on our beaches.

So yes, our beaches tend to have more signs than surf, more warnings than welcomes.  

For not only do we need to worry about the dangerous animals we might encounter in or near our coastline, we also have to watch out for dangerous currents, submerged rocks, dumping waves and the biggest threat of them all:  our “rips,” strong currents that begin near the shoreline.

Rips are usually bodies of water with fewer breaking waves and a tell-tale deeper darker blue colour – this important article tells you how you can spot a rip  and here are some great facts vs myths videos which I urge you to check out. As Surf Life Saving Australia says “All coastal drowning deaths occurred at unpatrolled beaches or outside of patrolling hours, and with Australia known for having 17,000 rips on any given day, we can’t stress the importance of swimming between the red and yellow flags.”

Make sure you’re aware of  all beach safety rules, signs and flags to watch out for and check out EPA Victoria (The Environment Protection Authority of Australia)’s Beach Reports to help you decide when and where you can swim in Port Phillip Bay.  

In summary, to truly enjoy our golden Australian beaches:

  • Don’t swim on unpatrolled beaches 
  • Don’t swim outside the two red and yellow flags marked out on the beach 
  • Don’t swim alone, always make sure you have a swim buddy
  • Watch your kids like a hawk  - never ever take your eyes off them in, on or around water, even if they can swim
  • Don’t swim when a beach is closed – usually signposted with a red flag 
  • Don’t swim directly after a meal or under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • A yellow flag means the surf is hazardous  – use caution
  • Don’t swim at night or at dusk or dawn
  • Use sunscreen (SPF 30+ as a minimum) - never underestimate the harshness of the Australian sun

Enjoy our beaches and stay safe!