BASS Coast has some of the most dangerous beaches in Victoria.

And it’s timely, with a record number of deaths by drownings at Victorian beaches and waterways, a total of 27 between July 1 and December 1, that the Bass Coast Shire Council should be queried about its response locally.

Bass Coast resident Graham Jolly put a question to council at its last monthly meeting of the year about a ‘Black Spot Assessment’ of local beaches by Life Saving Victoria and what the shire was doing about it.

“Life Saving Victoria published the ‘Black Spot Risk Assessment for the Bass Coast 2019’ report, of which council was named as a land manager/stakeholder… the report identified actions council is to consider for ongoing public safety. List all council actions including completed actions as of 14/12/2020?” Mr Jolly asked.

As well as ranking beaches by hazard level, the report noted a key recommendation in the risk treatment strategy proposed for all sites was signage. And the report strongly recommended a shire-wide uniform signage strategy.

“Used on public land specific to aquatic recreation drowning and injury event minimisation; it should be implemented in a coordinated and consistent manner,” said Life Saving Vic.

The shire council responded as follows:

“Life Saving Victoria takes the lead on water safety and drowning prevention initiatives that foster resilience in communities and encourage active participation in aquatic recreation.

“Council meets regularly with Life Saving Victoria, Victoria Police, Phillip Island Nature Parks and Parks Victoria, in relation to coastal risk mitigation activities and how to provide consistent messages to the community about beach safety.

“Council Beach Safety Signage is consistent with AS/NZS 2416 and council recently reviewed and improved signage in Kilcunda taking into consideration feedback provided in the report.

“The key message from Life Saving Victoria is to plan your trip to the beach this summer. All beaches, even can be dangerous and have hidden dangers such as rips. Make sure to check the weather and conditions, use the website to find patrolled beaches, read safety signs and always go swimming with a friend.”

But is that enough?

The council was asked to provide a comprehensive list of its actions to minimise the chance of injury and drownings and it’s reasonable that they should do so.

Sensitive to the issue of safety on Bass Coast beaches, the Mayor Cr Brett Tessari, used his sign-off from the last public meeting of the year to make a plea to swimmers.

“Can I just reiterate when you get to the beach and you’re in such an excited state to get into our beautiful environment that we have down here in Bass Coast that you just take the time to assess the situation and you familiarise yourself with the surroundings and then have a good time swimming between the flags on a safe patrolled beach.”

Top 15 most dangerous beaches

The ‘Revised Beach Hazard Score’ applied to Bass Coast’s beaches by Life Saving Victoria highlights the impact of the presence or absence of effective localised controls such as an active lifesaving patrol service.

“For example, while beaches such as Woolamai and Cape Paterson\First Surf are ranked second- and eleventh-most hazardous without considering existing control measures, their ranks drop to a midrange hazard level once existing controls are considered, in particular an active patrol service.

“Conversely, Coral Point West, Cutlers and Powlett River East only place in the top 15 beaches when considering their ‘Overall Beach Hazard Rank’. This indicates that more hazardous beaches have more effective control measures in place.”

Dangerous beaches by ‘Initial Beach Hazard Score’ (overall beach hazard rank in brackets)

1. Punchbowl (6).
2. Woolamai (32).
3. Magic Lands West (1).
4. Magic Lands (5).
5. Beach 170 (7).
6. Beach 171 (7).
7. Sunderland Bay (11).
8. Beach 169 (2).
9. Undertow Bay (9).
10. Beach 173 (10).
11. Cape Paterson\First Surf (11).
12. Beach 172 (12).
13. Surf Beach (13).
14. Forrest Bluff/Forrest Caves (14).
15. Coal Point West, Cutlers (Harmers Haven) and Powlett River East (15).