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The NSRI has launched eight lifeguarding units over the past three years. Lifeguard Operations Manager Stewart Seini explains how the units came about, what they do, and their role within the NSRI.How the first Sea Rescue Lifeguard unit startedIn 2017, the NSRI wanted to evolve from being a purely responsive rescue organisation to being a proactive one as well. We looked at Station 18 in Melkbosstrand to run the pilot project to determine if we could be successful at providing a volunteer lifeguarding service. We opted to refer to our lifeguarding sections as units instead of clubs because they are a rescue unit.Station 18 has a dangerous beach, no lifeguards and a volunteer base that was keen to take on this new challenge. We aimed at putting highly skilled, and highly equipped lifeguards on the beach. They would have an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), WaveRunner, fully stocked medical equipment, and a refitted container to become a mobile lifeguard platform.Successful pilot leads to more lifeguard units The Melkbosstrand pilot was successful. The lifeguards saved lives and it was clear that these volunteers could function well on unlifeguarded beaches. Shortly thereafter, Station 37 (Jeffreys Bay) started lifeguarding, with the lifeguarding clubs in the area closing their doors to join the NSRI so that they could be trained to become highly qualified all-rounded water rescuers.We have since partnered with the Kouga Local Municipality to provide training to the Kouga community to create lifeguard jobs on local beaches. This has been a tremendous challenge as, in most cases, we have had to start by teaching people to swim. But the partnership between the municipality and the NSRI has been strong, and the programme has created some excellent lifeguards.Station 16 (Strandfontein) started a lifeguard station in 2018. However, they started performing a different model of lifeguarding called ‘out-of-the-flags patrolling’. Because their area is so large, the Station 16 lifeguards patrol the water with the WaveRunner and the beach with the ATV, looking for hazards and setting up monitoring stations on the most dangerous parts of the beach that are not lifeguarded. Station 16 also has a strong partnership with the City of Cape Town, with an agreement to train up 20 NSRI surf rescue swimmers from the local communities.In 2018, the NSRI was asked by the Cederberg municipality to run lifeguarding for Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, and Clanwilliam Dam. We took on the challenge because they had no beach or water-safety structure there at all, and they have one of the highest drowning rates in the Western Cape. The season was a success, having had zero drownings and a newly established strong water-safety team on those beaches. The NSRI also operates professional and volunteer lifeguarding at Station 45 in Strandfontein the West Coast (different to Station 16).What Sea Rescue Lifeguards doThe focus of Sea Rescue Lifeguards is prevention. Our teams are chosen from local residents who are trained to understand their area of operation intimately. The skills that we teach emphasise anticipating dangers and educating visitors about these dangers, thus reducing the need for rescue.Sea Rescue lifeguarding protocols are carefully designed to reduce the dangers that visitors face. This includes a mobile application that gives our local and national managers real-time information on exactly what is happening in the area, including weather conditions and incidents.We use the very best equipment available, including 4x4 vehicles, quad bikes and custom-designed jet skis, which we call Rescue Rangers. This allows our lifeguards to respond to incidents faster and in a wider area than just between the flags, as statistics show that most drownings happen outside of the flags.The Sea Rescue Lifeguard unit uses its own training curriculum for volunteers, the Surf Rescue Swimmer qualification. This allows them to bridge that gap between lifeguards and sea rescue crew and brings their skill level closer together. Sea Rescue Lifeguards are on standby 24 hours a day to respond to emergencies.
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