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Most beachgoers are unaware of the skill, rigorous protocols and dedication it takes to serve as a qualified lifeguard. NSRI Lifeguard Operations Manager Stewart Seini gives us a snapshot of what an average shift for these everyday heroes looks like.

Thanks to the 90s TV show Baywatch, many beachgoers may have the erroneous notion that lifeguard duties mostly involve relaxing on the beach all day, working on a tan, with the odd rescue here and there for a bit of exercise.

Many are unaware of the rigorous training that goes into becoming an NSRI lifeguard, and when on duty, lifeguards are constantly monitoring the surf and swimmers to prevent drownings and accidents where possible, and perform rescues when necessary.

While there’s no such thing as a typical day in the life of an on-duty NSRI lifeguard – anything can happen on the beach, from shark sightings to jellyfish stings to drownings, capsized kayaks and changing weather conditions – structured protocols are always being observed. We asked Stewart to give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what those fit and fierce lifeguards are up to.

“The lifeguards arrive at their assigned beach anywhere from 8 to 9:30 am, depending on the day or requirements for the beach. They then conduct a SMEAC briefing [Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and Communications], which covers the necessary pre-duty protocols and team briefing in a structured format.”

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Performed at the start of the shift, the lifeguards are briefed by the senior lifeguard on their operational duties for the day. Objectives, weather conditions, tides, rip currents and hazards are all taken into account; all PPE (personal protective equipment) is checked; roles are assigned; limitations that may restrict operations are stipulated; emergency plans are reinforced; and chain of command is outlined, followed by a discussion to answer any questions the crew may have.

After their briefing, they sign in for duty through a lifeguard reporting app designed by Stewart. “This is the fourth year that we’ve been using the app, which has been upgraded each year when we review the data and identify things that need to be added or changed.”

Once active duty has commenced, one or two lifeguards will start to monitor the beach, while the other lifeguards go through a checklist to ensure that equipment is operational and stock levels are optimal. They’ll then identify the safest swimming area and mark this for bathers with red and yellow lifeguard flags, place signage up and down the beach, and place equipment on the beach – such as rescue buoys – for the quickest response.

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"Obviously, it’s best practice to prevent incidents before they even occur, so throughout the day lifeguards will ask people to swim between the flags, chat to beach visitors about hazards, warn people about rip currents, move various signs around the beach to identify hazards, and discourage swimming or close the beach altogether if conditions are unfavourable, or a shark has been sighted."

In order to prevent fatigue, lifeguards rotate roles throughout the day. “Lifeguards on a tower or watch duty scan and monitor the water; they know to look for specific patterns to quickly identify when someone is in trouble,” says Stewart. “After a while, visual fatigue can set in, which could put lives at risk, so this duty is only performed for 30 minutes at a time. The same goes for most of the other roles. The primary rescuer stands by the flags, in the heat, ready to run into the water if necessary; they can also become fatigued, so we rotate roles every 30 minutes so that every member of the team remains highly effective. The only role that doesn’t change throughout the day is the senior lifeguard role, as this person is in charge of the team for the day.”

If you happen to see the NSRI lifeguards looking at their smartphones while on duty, don’t worry, they’re not checking their Instagram accounts – they are required to record beach statistics on the lifeguard reporting app. The number of visitors on the beach, number of people in the water, number of water sport users, weather conditions, hazards, rip current locations, ocean conditions, wind speed and wind direction are each recorded every two hours. The person on watch duty isn’t required to record until they move on to a different role. In between all of this activity, lifeguards are – obviously – also likely to be called on to perform rescues or administer first aid.

“The lifeguards’ duty ends at about 6pm,” says Stewart, “but they’ll usually stay on until 7pm or later on public holidays if the beach is very busy or the risks of a drowning or incident remains high.”

Next time you’re at a venue where NSRI lifesavers are on duty – whether at a beach or inland dam – you can rest assured they are doing everything humanly possible to keep you, your friends and family safe while you enjoy the water.

Would you like to become an NSRI lifeguard? Click here to fill out an application form.

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