Warning signs at beaches: do they work?

Bernadette Matthews, Robert Andronaco, Austin Adams
October 2013
Research done by Life Saving Victoria.
The abstract can be read here.

This study is probably the first study which assesses aquatic safety signage in the field and therefore assesses directly the effectiveness of signage on beachgoers. The study investigates to what extent warning signs on the approach to some popular Victorian beaches (south-east of Australia) add to the existing knowledge of beachgoers exposed to such signage.

Interviews were conducted between February and April 2012, with 472 users at four beaches in the Australian state of Victoria. There was presence or absence of signage. The interview investigated hazard identification, signage recalled, comprehension of that signage.

Interesting in this research are the following results:
1. Less than half of beachgoers (45%) observed any signage. However, when signage was noticed, beachgoers were more likely to notice hazard symbols (96,4%) rather than regulation or other information.
2. Signage is less effective than might be imagined.
3. A relatively large number of the interviewees mentioned relevant aquatic hazards even when signage was absent. This indirectly suggests that public awareness and related campaigns in the past (as this is Australia where government makes a lot of efforts to raise safety awareness among its citizens) have been relatively effective.

These results support the appeal of Safe Coastal Tourism to regardĀ  the implementation of public awareness campaigns as an important and very valuable strategy to increase water safety behavior of beachgoers around and in the sea. In other words, putting more signs at Belgian beaches, which are by the way only regulation signs at unguarded beaches, will not promote awareness of the dangers of the sea, nor will it prevent many beachgoers risking their lives by bathing in an unsupervised area, as can be noticed regrettably too frequently. Therefore Safe Coastal Tourism calls for beach safety campaigns to raise awareness and to educateĀ  the public .