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Beach season is almost upon us, which means the NSRI will be ramping up its training. We chatted to Lifeguard Operations Manager Stewart Seini to find out what he and his team have been up to.

As the weather finally turns a corner, beaches across South Africa will begin to fill up in the countdown to the December holidays, which means lifeguards and rescue crews need to be on the alert, as the likelihood of drowning and water-sport-related accidents rises.

“Training normally occurs from one to three times per week throughout the year, depending on the lifeguards’ availability,” says Stewart Seini, the NSRI’s Lifeguard Operations Manager. “This training is normally increased in frequency and duration in the summer months.”

Training locations include Strandfontein on the West Coast, the Cederberg, Cape Agulhas, Knysna, and Saldanha Bay. The training itself comprises drills that focus on keeping the lifeguards fit, as well as giving them the opportunity to practise trickier skills. This includes everything from using a rescue board for multiple casualties, to performing rescues in and around hazards like rocks and fast-flowing tidal streams.

There’s also training on responding to critical incidents like mass-casualty rescues, unresponsive casualties, shallow-surf search and rescue, as well as incidents that fall outside of the lifeguards’ area of responsibility, such as planes making an emergency landing on the beach, assisting fisherman who have been washed off the rocks, boats capsizing in the surf, medical- or trauma-related emergencies that occur along tricky terrain, or any incident in which the lifeguards would have had to call the NSRI or emergency services.

“Each year the trainees focus on performing tasks identified for them on a task sheet that contains all of the criteria that we require of our lifeguards to qualify as a lifeguard or requalify for the year,” says Stewart. “The training also allows newcomers to join and train as lifeguards.”

In municipalities where a beach is contracted to the NSRI, Stewart and his team conduct an additional week-long specialised pre-deployment training session. “This occurs just prior to lifeguard season, which extends from the beginning of December through to the end of January,” he explains. “This is an intense course that covers fitness, lifeguard skills, interacting with the public, prevention measures and NSRI lifeguard-specific standard operating procedures. When the lifeguards have requalified for the year, and have conducted pre-deployment training, and we are satisfied with the standard at which they are operating, then they are ready for beach duty. The lifeguards will be on standby to report for duty on hot and busy weekends up until April.”

Over and above all of this, a community-funded lifeguard training is also provided in certain locations, focusing on the development of people who generally don’t have access to it. “Currently this is taking place in Sedgefield and surrounding areas of Knysna.”

Rest assured, those of us visiting beaches, lakes or dams protected by NSRI crews are in safe hands.

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