South Beach safe swimming zone

swimming zoneAlong with hundreds of other people, I swim between the groynes at South Beach and Little Dog Beach almost daily from September to May. Sometimes when the waves are choppy I go off course and end up some way out to sea, beyond the groynes. This doesn’t concern me, other than when there are boats nearby as I fear they wont see me between the waves.

As such, I welcome the Aquatic Use Review. I thoroughly support Fremantle Council’s initiative to make South Beach and Little Dog Beach a swimming zone, excluding all motorized vessels. I think this highly urbanized beach that caters for thousands of swimmers every day warrants this type of protection.

I am somewhat disappointed that the Department of Transport proposal includes a boat access channel in the northern end of Little Dog Beach, therefore excising 120m from the swimming zone. I hope that this proposal will be withdrawn after the public comment and review period, as it is unnecessary and will undermine the swimming zone.

The 120m area of beachfront in question, known to regulars as ‘Mermaid cove’, is a calm, safe and popular swimming area when the tide is low. It is also included in the groyne-to-groyne swim by many regulars.

The Department of Transport stated that the boat access channel is intended to allow people mooring to come ashore on a tender or dinghy to use facilities like toilets and cafes. However, there are no facilities at this part of the beach. It would be far more logical for boat users to come ashore at the northern end of the Cockburn dog beach, south of south beach, where they can access toilets, two cafes, the car park and playground with a short walk.

A boating channel in the proposed location at the northern end of the dog beach may also pose a risk to boat users, as this area is buffeted by the sea breeze and swell each afternoon, which could push boats onto the rocks or see them inundated by onshore waves when they land.

The proposed boat exclusion zone does not apply to kayaks, paddle boards or other non-motorized floating devices, therefore people on boats could also come ashore at any point along both bays using these.

As far as I am aware, there are no plans to build a new boat ramp to the south of the FSC breakwater. Last time a proposal to build a boat ramp into Little Dog Beach was received, it was universally rejected by the council and the community. However, during early consultation with council, the Department of Transport stated that if a boat ramp was approved – the Aquatic Use Regulations for the area could be amended within a matter of months, making this access channel for a future boat ramp obsolete in the interim.

At present, approximately 50% of Fremantle’s waterfront is used for boating and port purposes. To the south of the Swan River mouth, this increases to 63% with just 1226m of beach access available for people to swim and recreate[i].

Fremantle is a popular waterfront city for residents and visitors alike. The ocean is an important part of our local lifestyle, culture and identity. Fremantle’s beaches are not just significant regional beaches; they are vital for local tourism. While Fremantle’s Port, fishing and boating facilities are also significant, we cannot afford to lose more of our waterfront.

The City of Fremantle and State Government both have strategic priorities to increase the local population through infill development. This means our recreational areas will be under increasing pressure. The City of Fremantle also promotes healthy active lifestyles and active transport – therefore having adequate recreational facilities within walking or cycling distance and on the Fremantle CAT bus route is key.

Boating is also a healthy active recreational activity that is well catered for locally. My father is a Fremantle Sailing Club member and I grew up with a boat in the yacht club we used regularly, I hold no ill-will towards the Club and in fact have much appreciation and fondness for it. However, I note that their lease grants them more than 7 hectares of prime oceanfront (spanning approximately 600m of foreshore) and 26 hectares of seabed for just $1500 a year rent.

I hope that we can share the coastline with safe, fair access to all.

There are very few swimming zones that exclude boats along the Perth coast. This is unfortunate, as safety for vulnerable swimmers at popular beaches should be prioritised.

A swimming zone at South Beach was first endorsed by the Fremantle Council in 2008:

“In the interests of beach user safety we request that Council investigate (with a view to instigating) a boat exclusion zone at popular Fremantle imposed by Cottesloe and many other coastal councils.”

This was re-iterated by the Council in February 2015:

  1. “That the City of Fremantle actively participate in the aquatic use review being conducted by the Department of Transport in 2015 so as to achieve better and clearer regulation of Fremantle beach use, specifically in relation to the proper protection of swimming beaches from the impact of watercraft.”
  1. That officers investigate the existing Town of Cottesloe Beaches and Beach Reserves Local Law as a model for the creation of an equivalent City of Fremantle local law that would provide an appropriate watercraft exclusion zone for local swimming beaches by October 2015. “


Subsequently, the City of Fremantle used its ability to action local law by erecting signs under Part 5 of Division 2 of the City of Fremantle Local Law 2002 that advise motorized boats to stay 125m from shore. So far this has been effective, with a noticeable decrease in the number of boats coming close to swimmers or mooring within the swimming area.

I do not believe that a boat access channel is warranted, necessary or justified in the northern end of Little Dog Beach. I believe people on boats can access shore using paddle craft or to the south of the South Beach groyne where facilities actually exist.

Should a boat ramp to launch small sail craft into the ocean south of the breakwater be approved, it could be done without impacting on the swimming zone. Furthermore, if the ramp was only used by sailboats, this is not in direct conflict to the council’s boat exclusion zone, which only relates to motorized craft.

I hope that the Department of Transport will support the community and the Council’s wishes by allowing the entire length of South Beach and Little Dog Beach to be a dedicated swimming zone.

By excluding motorized vessels from this small, popular stretch of coast, it will enable fair and safe use of the waterfront all people who enjoy the sea.


[i] The approximate measurements are shown below in a table (measurements taken as the crow flies using intramaps).

Fremantle Ports (south of the river mouth) 300m
Fishing Boat Harbour & Fremantle Sailing Club 1760m
Little Dog Beach and South Beach 876m



2 thoughts on “South Beach safe swimming zone

  1. I really enjoy not having to hear boat engines, smell exhaust and worry about where I swim when I am swimming at south beach.
    There are plenty of places boating types can do this. Leave South beach to the swimmers.
    Don’t mess with the marbo!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea.
    125 meters is a small distance when it comes to boating.
    A buffer zone for swimmers safety ensures that everyone can enjoy the water without having to either navigate around vessels or watch out for swimmers.
    Keep our freo beaches a haven for all to enjoy safely!

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