An Australian researcher has concluded that surfers are saving as many people from drowning as volunteer surf lifesavers.

Anna Attard, author of the study "Guardians of the Surf: The role and value of surfers in Australian beach and coastal surf rescues," noted that surfers rescue 5000 people per year in patrolled (45 per cent) and unpatrolled (54 per cent) spots.

"Surfers with prior water-safety training are more likely to perform a higher number of rescues, however ability to perform rescues is not associated with formal training but rather number of years' experience surfing," Attard told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"This study clearly demonstrates that surfers are found in locations that can be hazardous to swimmers and inexperienced surfers and are often in a position to assist beach users who find themselves in trouble. However, inexperienced surfers are sometimes more hindrance than help, if they do not have the knowledge or experience to perform a successful rescue."

A complementary study by Campbell McKay, Robert Brander and James Golf revealed that New South Wales holiday parks near unpatrolled beaches might put tourists in harm's way.

"Almost all drownings in Australia occur on unpatrolled beaches, outside the flags or after patrol hours. For example, on the Queensland coast, all international tourists who drowned between 1999 and 2004 died in unpatrolled environments," underlines Rob Barber, associate professor at the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, and author of "Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book."