Surf Life Saving Australia Using Drones to Monitor Swimmers, Deliver Flotation Devices and More

With more than 181,603 members, most of who are volunteers, and 314 affiliated surf clubs, Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) is the largest public safety, life-guarding organization in Australia. In 2017, with the support of the New South Wales (NSW) government, SLSA began utilizing drones to help keep beaches safe.

The SLSA drone program began with a handful of drones monitoring the most populated beaches. Trained drone pilots kept an eye out for struggling swimmers and questionable beach activities. It didn’t take long for SLSA to realize the drones could be used to spot sharks and warn surfers and swimmers of possible attacks. SLSA quickly increased its drone program, incorporating a fleet of shark spotting drones.

These drones were not only used to spot sharks but other dangerous water animals like crocodiles. The data collected by the drones are all shared with wildlife management teams for scientific research as well. The success of the drone patrols led SLSA to trial drones that could be used in rescue missions. This first of its kind program saw SLSA using drones to deliver flotation devices and emergency equipment to stranded swimmers. The drones could even be used to tow victims back to shore. By 2019, SLSA had developed one of the most comprehensive life saving drone programs.

With a proven drone program, the next step for SLSA was to recruit new pilots. For those who want to be a part of the club, but may not be the best in the water, SLSA provides opportunities to the public to become a member of the team without ever having to get their feet wet. SLSA offers an extensive, fully certified drone pilot training program. Best of all, the program is entirely free to anyone who wishes to become a volunteer SLSA drone pilot. Soon after announcing the free drone pilot training program, SLSA partnered up with She Maps to introduce the technology to the younger generation. She Maps is an Australian STEM program to engage students through grade 12 in the technology that will be shaping the future, particularly drones. And through the partnership with SLSA, a grant will allow the schools to participate at a greatly reduced rate.

In November of 2021, Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall stated that the NSW government would be allocating $500,000 to expand SLSA’s resources. These resources would include civilian access to first aid training and trauma kits, drones for all coastal local government offices, and expanding the fleet of shark spotting drones from 34 to 50 locations. “Every surfer in NSW will now have access to first-aid training through Surfing NSW’s Surfers Rescue 24/7 program, while customized medical kits and training will be supplied to more than 110 NSW boardrider clubs and 55 surf schools,” Minister Marshall said. “To help keep surfers even safer, an additional fleet of 20 drones will be used by Surfing NSW to patrol their events, in addition to our world-leading fleet of shark-spotting drones already delivered by Surf Life Saving NSW.” With drone technology, SLSA is ensuring they have the best protected beaches in the world.

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