Recreational water and your health

If you use water for recreational activities, you should be aware of possible health risks in and around the water.

These risks vary depending on the type of water you use and what activity you do.

The main rule is the more contact you have with water, the better the quality should be.

Categories of recreational water activity

Recreational water activities are defined by the amount of contact you have with the water.

There are three main categories:

  • primary contact – includes swimming, surfing and other activities where:
    • you might plunge into the water
    • there is a risk you might swallow water
  • secondary contact – includes boating and fishing where:
    • you have direct contact with water but
    • the chance of swallowing water is unlikely
  • passive recreation - there is no direct contact. For example, walking and picnicking around the water.

Types of risks

Types of risks in recreational waters include:

  • accidents
  • exposure to jellyfish and crocodiles
  • microbiological organisms
  • chemicals
  • exposure to toxic algae and their products.

If recreational waters are contaminated, it can mean disease outbreaks and illness in the community.

The greatest potential risk comes from microbial contamination by organisms such as:

  • bacteria
  • viruses
  • algae.

What you should do

You should always follow warning signs placed around beach areas and other waterways.

If you are unsure about the quality of a waterway, you should avoid activities where you are likely to swallow water.

Read the guidelines

To find out how recreational water risks are managed, read the guidelines on the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council website.

Contact

For more information, contact the Public Health Directorate by calling 08 8922 7152.

Last updated: 13 December 2019

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