Flags down on 2021-22 patrol season

The red and yellow flags are not the only tools that have finished regular patrol services for the year, with Life Saving Victoria’s (LSV’s) newly expanded drone fleet activities winding down following the final weekend of patrols.  

The organisation’s drone capacity was tripled ahead of this season thanks to a funding boost from the state government, increasing the fleet from three to nine aircraft, and allowing for recruitment and training of over 40 drone pilots, a vital step to allow LSV and its members to have eyes on more waterways across the state.  

Chief drone pilot James Coutie said that the drones were a tool to help support members particularly in difficult to reach areas or dangerous conditions, as well as other emergency service agencies. 

“We flew for more than 200 hours of patrols and helped to rescue three teenagers in distress at Urquhart Bluff, as well as providing support to the SES during the Latrobe Valley Floods last year, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Victorian Fisheries Association with monitoring pollution at Cherry Creek in March this year,” James said. 

“LSV’s drones can 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. 

“This helps us better predict risks in waterways and operational planning for our busiest periods, as well as quickly coordinate rescue services in emergency situations, keeping people safer in Victorian waters. 

South Melbourne LSC members Daisy Graham, Rhys Lewis and Katherine Hargest with LSV chief drone pilot James Coutie. Photo credit: Ian Currie, Herald Sun.

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. 

“The drones allow our lifesavers to monitor more beachgoers in remote and hard to reach locations, and provide 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,” James said. 

Although life saving clubs and state services including the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service will remain on standby during the cooler months, the lowering of the red and yellow flags marks the end of regular lifesaving patrols until next summer.  

LSV’s general manager lifesaving services Liam Krige thanked volunteers for their extraordinary efforts in preventing tragedies around our waterways.  

“So far, it’s looking like we will exceed the 200,000 cumulative patrol hours we achieved last year. Over another busy and challenging season, we are proud to have been able to keep the Victorian community safe,” Mr Krige said.  

“Volunteering is at the heart of everything we do at LSV, and we want to thank our incredible and dedicated members who performed over 700 rescues. That’s an 18 per cent increase on last summer, the previous record-holder.  

“Things may have looked very different for those people if our lifesavers and lifeguards were not there.”  

“The best time to prepare for next summer is now, so we encourage anyone looking to brush up on their swimming and water safety skills to enroll in swimming lessons in the off season.”  

The 2021-22 lifesaving season was made possible thanks to a $4.5 million investment from the Victorian Government into lifesaving services, funding paid lifeguard patrols and state services including helicopter, drone, jet ski and marine search and rescue. Patrol season 2022 – 23 is expected to commence mid-November 2022. 

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