Lifeguard Dean “Deano” Gladstone has been associated with surf lifesaving since the age of 5 and a professional since 2000. On the hit television series Bondi Rescue and the beaches of Bondi in Sydney, Australiam the father of two (Lucy, 2, and Gus, 1 month) regularly saves lives and he loves helping people. He gives suitcases&strollers his tips for a safe day at the beach with kids.  

Shark attacks – how common are they?

When you compare the deaths from shark attacks in Australia to the annual road toll, you should be more worried about driving to the beach than being attacked by a shark at the beach. The same goes for being caught in rips as well. A death from a rip is far more likely than a shark attack. Swimming in supervised areas will minimise this very low risk even further as lifeguards and lifesavers are always on the lookout for threats in the water.

What is a rip and how can the average person identify one?

The rips are usually in between the sand banks. The waves break over the sand banks and the water moves back out to sea via the rips. As it moves, it creates a current and the moving water makes a channel.

While these are usually easy to spot in shallow water, it can be hard to spot them in deep water. In terms of colour, the water is a different colour due to the depth and the moving water is sometimes sandy.

At Bondi you can usually spot a rip where a “dangerous current” sign and a rescue board is as this is where most of our rescues take place.

If you are in the water and you find yourself in trouble, what should you do?

The most important thing is DO NOT PANIC if you get caught in a rip. Always call for help or raise an arm. Also, look out for surfers nearby that may be able to help. New research indicates a high percentage of rips or currents take people onto a sand bank which will enable the person to return to shore.

When going to a beach without lifesavers, how do you know if the water is safe for swimming?

Ocean experience is something that has to be learned. Always play it safe when new to a beach and swim in a supervised area.

If your family isn’t a confident water family, I would recommend never swimming in an unsupervised area. Always seek out a beach with a lifeguard or surf lifesaver.

Is the beach only safe for kids who can swim or is it OK if you just stay in the shallows?

With any body of water, I always say children need to be supervised, whether they can swim or not. Think of the ocean like a very unpredictable bathtub. If your child can’t swim, stay with them at all times, no matter how shallow the water.

What's the best way to explain to kids about what they should do if they are dumped by a wave?

If there are big waves and it is your child’s first time at the beach, they should not be in the breaking section of the waves.

To prepare them for being dumped they need to be confident in their swimming ability and should learn to roll to prevent a spinal injury.

Is it safe to dig big holes in the sand?

Deep holes are unsafe for little ones as they can collapse. Stick with sandcastles!

What is the most common way that you see people get into trouble on the beach? How can it be avoided?

Drugs and alcohol are probably the most common way people get into trouble at the beach. Once drugs and alcohol are involved, the risk-taking [activity increases] to a new level.

Other than that, families should always stay between the red and yellow flags, follow signage and ask a lifeguard or lifesaver if they have any questions or concerns about beach safety.

[For more beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers story How To Be Sun Smart.]

What do you look for when identifying a family-friendly beach?

I love to take my daughter Lucy to flat-water beaches. It is much easier for the little ones when they don’t have to worry about waves. If there are no flat-water beaches nearby, look for the protected end of the beach. In Bondi, all the families go to the north end as the waves are smaller and it’s generally safer than South Bondi. It also has a kiddie pool which is ideal.

What are your top 3 beach safety tips for families?

1. Swim at a patrolled beach so if you are ever in doubt about anything you can ask questions. Staying near lifeguards or lifesavers will minimise many other risks as well.

2.  Everyone should learn to swim and learn CPR. You never know when you will need it, so play it safe and get certified.

3. Be prepared when you go to the beach: water, sunscreen, shade. Always try to use common sense and be careful with the little ones.

For tips on how to teach your kids to SCUBA dive, see the suitcases&strollers story here. For tips on how to teach your kids to snorkel, see the suitcases&strollers story here
For more travel tips on things to do in Sydney with kids, see the suitcases&strollers interview with former Wiggle, Sam Moran