With their bronzed bodies and penchant for dramatic rescues, the lifeguards of Bondi Rescue have proven an unlikely TV hit in more than 100 countries.
The show’s impact may well go further than high ratings however, with research proving they have had a dramatic educational effect, not just in Sydney and Australia but right around the world. A global survey of the show’s viewers by the University of New South Wales has revealed the show has quietly taught millions worldwide about safe swimming, and other beach dangers.
As part of their study, the university received more than 1800 responses from viewers in 51 different countries with 60% of those surveyed coming from outside Australia. They were asked had they known what a rip current (riptide) is, the dangerous current that runs away from shore and which can easily catch out inexperienced sea swimmers. Of those questioned, 43% said they had not known about them before tuning into Bondi Rescue but after watching, awareness increased to 93%.
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When shown pictures of a beach, more than nine in ten of those surveyed correctly identified the area between the flags as the safest place to swim. Overall, four in five viewers said that Bondi Rescue had given them a much better understanding and knowledge of beach safety. Most impressively, 17% said they had used skills or techniques they learned from the show in real-life situations, giving advice or using a flotation device.
The popular show follows the lifeguards at Sydney’s world-famous Bondi Beach during the summer months when they perform around 5000 rescues. Professor Rob Brander of the University of New South Wales said: “it is difficult to engage large numbers of the general public in any sort of formal beach safety campaign, and awareness of surf hazards remains poor. This factual TV program may provide the only beach safety education they [viewers] get. Our results show it is an effective, large-scale education tool. It has improved knowledge and behaviour and, in terms of reach, dwarfs programs like signs, brochures and posters.”
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As part of the research, they also analysed all the rip rescues that had featured in the first eight seasons of the show. Men were rescued almost twice as often as females, and tourists – mostly from Asia and Europe – were rescued more than Australians. They’ve also put together a useful video for swimmers on what to do if they find themselves in a rip current.