Taking a Risk Perception Approach to Improving Beach Swimming Safety



Beach swimming is generally associated with a healthy lifestyle, yet the risk of drowning is universally significant.


The purpose of the study was to investigate the factors associated with safe swimming behavior using protection motivation theory as a guiding theoretical framework.


This cross-sectional study surveyed a sample of beachgoers (N = 3371) aged ≥16 years who completed an anonymous, self-report questionnaire to assess the associations between perceptions of the risk of drowning and safe swimming behavior.


Compared with males, females perceived greater severity, vulnerability, response efficacy, and concern regarding their risk of drowning. Males, Maori, and 16 to 29 year olds reported higher self-efficacy scores compared to females, other ethnic groups, and older participants, respectively. After controlling for confounding variables, people perceiving a greater threat (severity) of experiencing difficulty while swimming as well as those reporting higher response efficacy (beliefs about the effectiveness of drowning prevention measures) were more likely to report safe swimming behavior.


The effectiveness of water safety education programs could be strengthened by enhancing risk appraisal and coping skills and counter-acting the tendency of males and younger adults to overestimate their swimming ability and underestimate their risk with regard to drowning.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), the advice of the drowning prevention experts who commented on the draft questionnaire, and the participants who contributed their valuable leisure time completing the questionnaire.

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Correspondence to J. McCool.

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McCool, J., Ameratunga, S., Moran, K. et al. Taking a Risk Perception Approach to Improving Beach Swimming Safety. Int.J. Behav. Med. 16, 360 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-009-9042-8

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  • Recreational swimming
  • Drowning prevention
  • Risk perception
  • Water safety