Australian-first technology rolled out on Queensland beaches 


Since its inception more than a century ago, the surf lifesaving movement has delivered a vital service to communities across the state. 

In Queensland, the movement dates all the way back to February 1909 when a group of volunteers used a traditional line and belt to pull four women and a man from a treacherous rip at Greenmount Beach on the Gold Coast. 

It was the first recorded rescue along Queensland’s coastline and, since then, SLSQ lifesavers and lifeguards have plucked more than 140,000 people from the surf. 

While much of the surf lifesaving movement as it stands today can be traced back to that fateful afternoon in 1909, there have been significant changes in years since. 

The line and belt, which saved countless lives more than a century ago, has long made way for more efficient and effective technology including the likes of rescue boards, tubes, jet skis, and inflatable boats. Meanwhile, from those humble beginnings, Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) has since developed into a ground-breaking organisation and one of the world’s leading authorities on coastal and aquatic safety. 

However, one thing that hasn’t changed over the past 109 years is SLSQ’s unwavering commitment to saving lives. In fact, it’s this underlying vision that continues to see the organisation pursue innovative technological advancements in a bid to increase its reach and protect all swimmers up and down Queensland’s coastline. 

SLSQ lifesaving operations coordinator Jason Argent said new technology trialled and introduced in recent months would see the organisation take a giant stride towards its overarching goal of eliminating drowning deaths across Queensland. 

“As an organisation, we’re always trying to be on the front foot when it comes to exploring and implementing new technology to help save lives,” he said. 

“It sounds clichéd, but every second counts when there’s a life on the line; if we can find ways to improve how we patrol a beach or how we go about performing a rescue, it could literally mean the difference between a drowning and a successful rescue.”

In recent months SLSQ developed and rolled out two mobile emergency response beacons and cameras on the Sunshine Coast, with the Australian-first technology set to combat drownings at identified high-risk stretches of coastline.  

To date the technology has been deployed and set up at two locations across the Sunshine Coast, one near Double Island Point and the other between Boardwalk and Yaroomba beaches. 

Moving forward, the coastal cameras will allow lifeguards and surf lifesavers to monitor the blackspot locations both remotely and around-the-clock, while the beacons can be activated by members of the public to directly alert SLSQ if a beachgoer is in danger and requires immediate assistance.

“We’d obviously love to have an active patrol service on every beach across Queensland, but unfortunately that’s neither realistic nor possible,” Mr Argent said. 

“The challenge for us as an organisation is to continue looking at innovative ways that we can stretch our resources and maximise manpower moving forward to ensure we’re covering as much of Queensland’s coastline as possible. 

“Importantly, the mobile cameras ensure that our surf lifesavers and lifeguards can still monitor those high-risk and particularly dangerous stretches of coastline and also be in a position to respond immediately to any incidents unfolding,” he said. 

The mobile technology is the first of its kind in Australia and, while initial trials are being staged on the Sunshine Coast, the opportunity exists for it to be rolled out state-wide. 

“The cameras provide us with a live feed of the area that will be monitored by our state operations centre, and will allow us to be a lot more proactive in terms of deploying assets or resources,” he said.

“Meanwhile if someone spots a beachgoer in trouble or immediate danger, they can activate a button on the emergency response beacon which will put them in direct contact with someone at SLSQ who can then task any lifesaving assets accordingly.

“The beacon can be activated around the clock on a 24/7 basis and, if a call comes through outside of our regular patrol hours, it will go through to one of our emergency response groups who will be in a position to respond quickly to any incidents,” he said.

Importantly, on the beach and in the sky, SLSQ continues to embrace new technology to boost coastal safety across the state. 

Trials of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have also continued at various beaches across South East and North Queensland, with lifeguards testing the equipment’s effectiveness and durability across both patrol and rescue scenarios.  

Meanwhile, in the state’s far north, UAV trials have also been conducted in recent months to determine their effectiveness when it comes to identifying and monitoring crocodile activity in the water. 

“The potential benefits of UAV technology are huge, particularly from a lifesaving and beach management perspective, and we’re continuing to actively trial them in a range of scenarios across Queensland,” Mr Argent said. 

“Drone technology will never replace the men and women patrolling our beaches, but we’re hopeful it can potentially give us an extra advantage when it comes to saving lives and proactively preventing incidents from occurring in the years ahead,” he said. 

NewsJacob Thomson