Drones are quickly becoming one of the must-have ‘toys’ of the 21st century, but a new initiative from Westpac and Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) will make sure they’re put to good use on Far South Coast beaches.
The Far South Coast branch has received one of 25 Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drones rolled out across various beaches in NSW
The drone will cover Malua Bay Beach, Horseshoe Bay Beach, Bengello Beach, Moruya Beach, Main Beach, Pambula Beach, and Tathra Beach.
Westpac Branch Manager for Pambula, Harley Jenkins, said the drones were a good move into the future for both Westpac and SLSNSW.
“The lifesaving drones have been in development for quite a while with Westpac, so we've trialled initially with 17, got that off the mark and passed legals, and this is the next expansion,” he said.
“We've got 51 drones going out across Australia, and they're going to areas where SLS Australia needs the support, and is going to get the most value out of them.”
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The drone program could open up the possibility of quickly dropping flotation devices to struggling swimmers, but that’s still down the track.
“Anything is a possibility,” Mr Jenkins said. “We'll continue to review on an ongoing basis to make sure we're supporting the community in the best way we can.”
Batemans Bay Surf Club member Anthony Bellette is one of the trained pilots for the new drone.
“The drone is a really valuable tool for us, because we can get it in the air in a couple of minutes and have an eye looking over our patrol areas,” he said. “It gives us the ability to see exactly where someone is at any given time.
“Where it might be dangerous to send in an inflatable rescue boat (IRB) because of rocks, we can send the drone in to get really clear vision on what’s around the area.”
Based on statistics provided by SLSNSW, there were more than 4000 rescues and 150,000 preventative actions on NSW beaches last year.
Mr Bellette said the drones would help lower those numbers.
“We’ll use it on patrols, but we’ll also use it in our emergency response system,” he said.
“After hours we may be tasked to a beach anywhere along the coast. This drone will be great for that, because once we arrive on scene, we can have the drone in the air searching while our crews are getting ready.
“It’s going to spot stuff that could take us 15-20 minutes longer without it, especially in large surf. We can then direct our crews via the radio to make our response time a lot faster.”
Drones are heavily regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), but the pilots are all trained beforehand to make sure all rules are followed.
“It’s a line-of-sight rule,” Mr Bellette said. “The drones can fly a lot further than that, but CASA regulations say we need to be able to see the drone to operate it.
“When we have other emergency assets come in, like the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, we’ll ground the drone straight away. We’re always in communication with other aircraft in the area to make sure everyone is safe.
“We also have to stay at least 30 metres away from people, and we can’t fly directly over the top of people. When the beach is busy, we can use the rocky outcrops to get out over the water.
“We encourage people to come and have a chat if you see the drone, especially if you’re concerned, because all out operators will be fully trained.”