If you’re at a popular beach this summer, you may see a drone flying overhead. And if you manage to spot the operator, you might be surprised to see them wearing the distinctive red-and-yellow outfit of a lifesaver.
The drones—also known as unmanned aerial vehicles—are being used for beach safety, coastal surveillance, search and rescue and sports videos.
Surf Life Saving NSW, with support from the Department of Primary Industries and Westpac, operates 70 drones from around 50 locations.
Paul Hardy, UAV Operations Coordinator and Chief Remote Pilot, says drones were initially introduced to complement the organisation’s other assets. ‘With the increase in technology, they’re becoming an essential part of our search and rescue services,’ he says.
The organisation’s drone pilots are a new breed of ‘dry’ lifesaver who need not have any swimming ability to go on patrol. The pilots come from diverse backgrounds and include Qantas A380 pilots and people with little or no aviation background.
Safety is paramount and all of the organisation’s operators must undergo a two-day training program in UAV operations and safety.
‘Beaches are an attractive place to fly drones and are used widely by the public to film activities like surfing and sailing and marine life like whales, dolphins and sharks. However, there are strict guidelines in place for the operation of UAVs near people and marine life,’ Hardy says.
‘We encourage all private UAV pilots to familiarise themselves with rules for flying drones at the beach before they launch one.’
When operating drones on busy beaches, the organisation works with the public to achieve the CASA requirements of keeping people 30 metres away from the machine.