Since March 2019, a dedicated team of seven volunteer pilots have operated three new lifesaving drones across beaches and for other emergency service tasks across Victoria, including aerial surveillance and impact assessments of fire-affected areas of East Gippsland for Victoria Police.
“For the last six months, we have used the drones across the state on an as-needed basis, with pilots trained in accordance with the CASA requirements,” said the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drone program chief pilot David Rylance. “They are proving to be a really useful and versatile tool in our lifesaving operations work.”
The service includes a Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone with an optical and thermal camera, as well as a Matrice 210 drone, an aircraft with the ability to change the sensor depending on the mission and the service has two that can be mounted on the drone at the same time. They are the XT2, a high resolution dual thermal and optical camera and the Z30, which is a high resolution 30 x optical zoom camera.
This season, the drones have been tasked for surveillance purposes and to detect any marine creatures while the swimmers were in the water, including a special rip safety awareness exercise with two of Victoria’s best lifesaving sport athletes – Naantali Marshall and Archie Vernon, at Fairhaven beach.
“We also used the drones for surveillance at major lifesaving carnivals and club events, as well as to help identify rip currents,” says David. “Search and Rescue operations, coastal survey activities and mapping are other areas the drones could be of use.”
Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Drones were also on display at major lifesaving carnivals and activations from Warrnambool to Elwood, where the youngest nippers could get hands-on with the equipment and the most seasoned life members could find out more about the new technology available to lifesavers this summer.
And when the beaches were closed along Port Phillip Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic response, the drones were once again able to be the eye in the sky, as well as alerting beachgoers of the closures through the drone speaker.
“The drone service is very adaptable and we never expected to use the equipment in this way, but being able to survey from a safe distance was appreciated by the volunteer lifesavers operating the drones,” says David. “Applications for the drones are really only limited by the imagination.”
The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drone program is an extension of Westpac’s partnership with Surf Life Saving Australia, which, last year, introduced over 50 drones across the country, making it Australia’s first comprehensive approach to search and rescue using drone technology.