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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Hitting the beach is one of the great traditions of Australian summer. Now, a mobile phone app lets swimmers know not only the best weather and surf conditions but also which beaches are the nearest - and safest.
There are upwards of 12,000 rescues a year on the thousands of beaches ringing Australia, according to Surf Life Saving Australia, the creator of the free "Beachsafe" iPhone app, and each year nearly 100 people drown.
The app uses global positioning systems (GPS) to determine the closest beaches to the user and then provides a slew of information ranging from surf conditions, tides and whether it is patrolled, to directions on how to get there.
"Particularly in Australia, you can never provide too much information about beach safety. Each year, there are thousands of people who get themselves into trouble on beaches," said Matt Myers, media officer at Surf Life Saving Australia, a non-profit organization that protects lives on Australian beaches.
There have already been some 50,000 downloads of the app, which was launched in October, said Travis Klerck, an IT worker at Surf Life Saving who helped develop the app from beach data bases built up over decades and consolidated at the organization's website.
There are calls for still further modifications, such as allowing users to bookmark favorite beaches or upload their own comments and photos. A mobile phone version of Surf Life Safety's website is also available.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato