$1.32 million investment takes water safety to new heights

A $1.32 million funding boost from the Victorian Government has helped Life Saving Victoria (LSV) acquire new state-of-the-art technology for its eyes in the skies – its drone and helicopter fleets.

This includes advanced surveillance technology, which means LSV can now live stream footage captured by its drones directly into the state control centre, as well as automatically identify and monitor potential ocean hazards.

LSV has also doubled its drone capacity, increasing its fleet from two operational drone teams to four to allow the organisation to have eyes on more waterways across the state, and expanded the  Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service with additional flight hours and the installation of high-definition cameras on the search and rescue helicopter’s winch cable.

Together, these upgrades – which were made possible thanks to $750,000 towards the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service and $565,900 for drone services in the 2021-22 Victorian State Budget – will deliver enhanced safety outcomes for people recreating in and around water this summer season and beyond.

The LSV Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

LSV general manager lifesaving operations Liam Krige said the investment had helped to modernise the organisation’s aerial services, which are vital to keeping people safe in Victorian waters following the tragic outcome of 61 fatal drownings last year – Victoria’s worst drowning toll in 20 years.

“LSV’s drones can now automatically count beach attendance, identify and survey ocean hazards and livestream and store surveillance footage of hundreds of kilometres of Victorian coast and inland waterways directly into the state control centre – Victoria’s emergency response hub,” Mr Krige said.

“This will help us to improve the accuracy of our risk forecasting and operational planning for our busiest periods, as well as quickly coordinate rescue services in emergency situations, keeping people safer in Victorian waters.

“Additionally, this funding has allowed us to expand the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service, providing additional capacity through increased flight hours and the installation of a high-definition camera on the helicopter’s winch cable.

“This means we are not only available to undertake more rescues in remote and hard to reach locations when people need us most, but that we also have a clearer idea of patients’ conditions as we are winching them to safety, enabling us to relay their status to our partner agencies, including Ambulance Victoria, more quickly, for better safety outcomes.”

In recent seasons, drones have become a critical addition to LSV’s waterway surveillance capability, with the technology expanding the capacity of traditional lifesaving patrols far beyond the red and yellow flags, while last season, LSV undertook a record 15 winching rescues of people in distress using the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter.

This was on top of 612 rescues facilitated throughout the 2020 – 21 season; LSV’s busiest and longest yet.

Following another year with prolonged lockdowns to help slow the spread of COVID-19, LSV is predicting another busy lifesaving season, warning of increased drowning risk across the state.

While LSV is urging swimmers, boaters and other people recreating around water to make their safety their priority, they say this boost in funding will enhance the organisation’s ability to respond during emergency situations, should people find themselves in trouble.

“Prevention is better than intervention. So, while we have increased surveillance, intervention and rescue capability and capacity this summer season, we’d rather we didn’t have to use it at all,” said Mr Krige.

“Your safety is your responsibility, so please, make sure you’re swimming between the red and yellow flags at the beach whenever possible, always checking the conditions before you go, and assessing the risks before you engage in an activity around water.

“This doesn’t just include when you plan to swim, with half of all drowning deaths over the past decade occurring when people didn’t plan on entering the water, so stay alert and stay safe.”

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