12. Priority Area: Risk Factors

Focus: Risk taking

Why is this an area of focus?

Understanding how people perceive risk helps to develop more effective public safety strategies. Early exposure, upbringing and environmental factors, including socioeconomic factors, are thought to be the most influential in shaping individual and community perceptions of risk. People are thought to amplify the risks associated with infrequent and catastrophic events, such as a shark attack, and underestimate the risks associated with frequent events, such as swimming in a current. An individual’s motivation to take action is a balance of their own perceived vulnerability and the severity of an event.

Our ability to perceive risk can be impaired by factors such as alcohol, peer pressure and a lack of understanding. Risk perception can also be developed over time and may vary by activity. For example, a perception bias was identified among inexperienced rock fishers who misunderstood dangerous wave behaviour, while experienced fishers were able to perceive environmental conditions and read wave periods to identify and respond to any associated risks before it was too late. There is increasing interest to better understand the theories behind risk perception in water safety and the motivation for adaptation or change as knowledge and perceptions can drive behaviour change.

Key themes

Intention, Response, Alcohol, Perception, Behaviour, Male, Familiarity, Common sense, Underestimating risk, Drugs, Internal & external cues, Inexperience, Overestimating ability, Peer-pressure, Complacency, Judgement, Understanding, Attitude, Diverse cultures

Key activities 2021-2025


  • Investigate all facets of risk perception and risk-taking behaviours
  • Explore innovative technological approaches to addressing risk


  • Ensure water management authority policies address relevant risk-taking behaviours and include mitigation strategies to reduce risk
  • Ensure that all recreational activities develop policies that address risk taking


  • Develop campaigns that target risk perception across all life stages
  • Enhance approaches to risk communication across the water safety sector


  • Partner with recreational groups to raise awareness of risk profiles in middle life stages
  • Engage youth advocates in the development of programs targeting risk perception
  • Work with appropriate champions and peer influencers to better engage with target audiences


  • Deliver educational programs targeting drowning risk
  • Ensure educational programs reflect best practice approaches to risk perception

Safe environments

  • Identify and implement targeted measures at risk-taking blackspots
  • Identify and implement targeted measures for risk-taking activities


  • Expand sector-wide capacity to understand and translate risk into programs and actions

Creating medium term changes in


Knowledge of risk perception and risk-taking behaviours


Policies related to known risk-taking blackspots and activities


Evidence-based and risk-based communications across the water safety sector


Community understanding of risk


Key risk-taking behaviours around water

Targets 2030

Understanding of the role of risk perception and risk taking in drowning and its prevention increased

Reduced risk-taking behaviour around water