Beach classification

Find out what information we use to grade a beach and how those grades can help you decide where and when to swim.

The beach classifications are a long-term assessment of the likelihood that a beach will be polluted by faecal matter. It uses a combination of sanitary inspection (identification and rating of potential pollution sources at a beach) and water quality measurements gathered over previous years.

The suitability of sites for swimming is graded from Very good to Very poor according to the beach classification matrix. This uses the sanitary inspection category and microbial assessment category.

Beach classification matrix

Microbial Assessment Category (MAC)

A (<41)

B (41–200)

C (201–500)

D (>500)

Sanitary Inspection Category

(SIC)

Very low

Very good

Very good

Follow up

Follow up

Low

Very good

Good

Follow up

Follow up

Moderate

Good

Good

Poor

Poor

High

Good

Fair

Poor

Very poor

Very high

Follow up

Fair

Poor

Very poor

What do beach grades mean?

There are five beach grades: Very good, Good, Fair, Poor or Very poor. These are colour coded based on traffic lights, with green representing areas where it is safer to swim and red representing areas where there is a higher risk. The grades are defined below.

Green

Very good

Location has generally excellent microbial water quality and very few potential sources of faecal pollution. Water is considered suitable for swimming for almost all of the time.

Good

Location has generally good microbial water quality and water is considered suitable for swimming for most of the time. Swimming should be avoided during heavy rain, and for up to one day at ocean beaches and three days at estuarine sites following heavy rain.

Amber

Fair

Microbial water quality is generally suitable for swimming, but due to the presence of significant sources of faecal contamination, extra care should be taken to avoid swimming during, and for up to three days following, rainfall or if there are signs of pollution such as discoloured water, odour, or debris in the water.

Red

Poor

Location is susceptible to faecal pollution and microbial water quality is not always suitable for swimming. During dry weather conditions, ensure that the swimming location is free of signs of pollution, such as discoloured water, odour or debris in the water, and avoid swimming at all times during, and for up to three days following, rainfall.

Very poor

Location is very susceptible to faecal pollution and microbial water quality may often be unsuitable for swimming. It is recommended to avoid swimming at this site.

The classifications do not represent water quality on a particular day. They tend to reflect the poorest water quality measured at a beach rather than the average water quality. A beach may be graded as Poor but still be suitable for swimming for a proportion of the time.

How often are beach grades assigned?

Beach grades are assigned in October each year, with sanitary inspections of the catchment conducted to determine if any of the pollution sources have changed, and using the most recent water quality data. Beach grades are published in the annual State of the Beaches report.