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The NSRI continues to go from strength to strength – and 2022 was no exception. NSRI Director of Rescue Services Brett Ayres shares a few highlights.

Despite challenges, the NSRI’s Director of Rescue Services Brett Ayres says 2022 has been one of the organisation's most successful years yet. “We now have 1493 operational personnel directly involved in the rescue effort – the highest number it has ever been. We have broadened our impact and count 1 452 volunteers (including preventative, governance and operational roles) in the collective effort towards making the NSRI one of the most impactful NPOs in the country.”

For comparison, the NSRI had only 941 volunteers in 2012, marking a 54% growth in just 10 years. “This number is also much more diversified in its service offering now,” says Brett, “spread across the spectrum of rescue personnel, both sea-going and shore-based. This includes preventative service volunteers (inspecting Pink Rescue Buoys, conducting water safety and survival swimming lessons, among other things), volunteer governance structures, as well as shore-based volunteer administrative, PR and fundraising personnel at various stations.”

One of the most recent new volunteer initiatives, remote beach camera monitors, commenced towards the end of last year, opening up yet another avenue for people from all walks of life, ages, abilities and availability to help save lives on South African waters. Becoming a beach camera monitor means volunteers can contribute without having to undergo physically intensive training or being called out to rescues at all hours.

“We have removed vast barriers to entry to the organisation,” says Brett, “providing practical and pragmatic corridors for transformation to occur.”

In October, The NSRI scooped an international award for its innovative Survival Swimming Centres: the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) Award. This was a particularly important win for the NSRI, said Andrew Ingram, as they were up against some of the wealthiest rescue services in the world.

On the lifeguarding front, five more beaches were added to the NSRI lifeguarding allocations through Cape Agulhas municipality (with a three-year agreement), as well as two trial beaches from the Great Kei municipality in the Wild Coast.

“Beyond our contractual obligations, we also placed NSRI lifeguards on select beaches on hot and busy days between February and April to ensure that the safety of the public using these beaches came first,” says Brett. “This tactic worked out to be a success as numerous big rescues were done at these areas on the days that we placed lifeguards, proving that lives would have been lost if we had not taken a proactive stance and placed lifeguards when we were not expected to.”

Perhaps most impressive is the organisation’s rescue rate for 2022. Its published research paper suggests that South Africa’s annual drowning rate is 1477, says Brett; “and our rescue stats – with lifeguarding preventions, Pink Rescue Buoy rescues, station rescues and the KwaZulu-Natal flood rescues – suggested that we saved about the same number of lives in 2022. Thus, it can be roughly estimated that the drowning death rate in South Africa, without the collective effort of the NSRI, would have been nearly 3000 persons for 2022. So we are half-way there!”

Indeed, the KwaZulu-Natal flooding in April 2022 was the stand-out incident of the year. By piecing together multiple reports, it is estimated that the NSRI participated in an estimated 200 rescues and recoveries over that period (461 people lost their lives, with 87 still missing), although the chaos of the event meant that precise data is not possible.

Here are a few more significant statistics that illustrate the impact of one of South Africa’s most effective NPOs in 2022:

• 8 633 preventative actions were conducted by NSRI Lifeguards, which undoubtedly reduced the drowning rate of South Africa and gave many South Africans and tourists a future they would not have had without this collective effort.

• 97 deceased persons were recovered, bringing critical closure to many families and loved ones.

• 64 animals were rescued, including 13 seals, 17 whales, 9 cats and dogs – and 10 goats!

• 267 vessels were assisted.

• 3 major global conferences and training events were attended by NSRI management and volunteer specialists, ensuring the organisation remains a world leader in its rescue expertise.

“I’d like to use this opportunity to express gratitude to the volunteers, station commanders, the NSRI Operations Support Committee and Directors for their invaluable support and guidance in achieving these impacts,” says Brett.

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