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Currents, sea beds and tide timings: Things to look out for when swimming at Singapore's beaches

The dangers of swimming in the sea came into the spotlight after a coroner's court heard on Thursday (Mar 18) that a boy who drowned off Changi Beach last year was swept away by strong currents.

Currents, sea beds and tide timings: Things to look out for when swimming at Singapore's beaches

Beachgoers take in the view at East Coast Park on Friday evening (Jun 19), the first day beaches are reopened to the public after Singapore's COVID-19 circuit breaker. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Although Singapore’s sheltered waters may appear safe, risks abound for swimmers who must pay keen attention to water safety practices, said experts. 

Discussions about the dangers of swimming in the sea surfaced after a coroner’s court heard on Thursday (Mar 14) that a boy who drowned off Changi Beach in August last year had been swept away by strong currents.

He did not know how to swim and panicked when the water level rose and he could no longer feel the sea bed.

Even if one is a proficient swimmer, they should never be over-confident, said instructors.

“We don’t have big waves in Singapore, but still the rules and everything about water safety is the same,” said Mr Isaac Lim, Dean of Academy of Water Safety & Swimming (AWSS).


Visitors must be aware of the many hazards posed by water activities, including the risk of drowning, said Dr Teo Ho Pin, advisor to the Singapore Life Saving Society.

Anyone who wants to enter a water body should also first pick up swimming skills, water safety knowledge and water survival skills, he said.

He added that some important things to look out for include “the current, the undercurrent, the kinds of sea creatures in the water and the rising tides at different times of the day".

READ: Body found at East Coast Park in suspected drowning

Singapore’s strong currents and undertows can be dangerous, especially for weak swimmers, added Mr Lim.

“You have strong currents going side to side, those coming in to shore and going back out, and you can’t see them. By the time you realise what’s happening, you’re being dragged out into the ocean,” he said.

He added that visitors should familiarise themselves with the area they will be swimming in.

“They need to know the decline and incline of beaches … Because I believe along East Coast, for example, it’s all reclaimed land, so the beach is not a gradual slope.

"It’s a big dip all of a sudden, so people can get into trouble like that,” he said.

READ: Commentary: Swimming deaths – how to build children’s independence without compromising safety?

Dive coach and swim instructor Mr Ho Ho Huat added that a safe zone to remain in would be two metres from the shoreline.

Beachgoers should not be over-confident even if they have passed swimming tests, he said, because on-land pools are a totally different environment.

“Swimming pools are man-made with clear water… and with help nearby. In the sea, you have undercurrents, the water is harder to see into … and you are also harder to see,” said Mr Ho.

He also advised against swimming in secluded areas, as it would be harder to get help should one need it.


If you are caught in a difficult situation in open waters, it is crucial to first remain calm, because panicking may affect your breathing and disorientate you, said the experts.

The next step would be to assess the direction of the current. Swimming in the same direction as the current will be easier, they said.

But if caught in a rip current moving outwards from the shore, Mr Lim said swimmers should swim sideways for a few metres to try to escape it, before then trying to head towards land.

It is generally not advisable to swim against the current, but if you have to, you should swim diagonally against it, which reduces resistance, said Mr Teo.

If you get tired or injured, you should try your best to float on your back, the experts added.

“If you float for many hours, it means you’re (giving rescuers) many hours. If after one second you’re underwater, the chances of being able to rescue you are slimmer,” said Dr Teo.

While in this position, you should then call for help.


If you see someone drowning, experts recommended calling other people in the area for extra help.

It is also important to find a floatation device, said Mr Lim.

“Get a strong swimmer to get closer to them, push it to them and get them to hang on to it.”

He added that if the rescuer wants to grab the victim himself, he or she should be trained, because a struggling victim may pull the rescuer down.

Source: CNA/cl(gs)


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