Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club welcomes drone program expansion funded by Westpac

Westpac Northlands Plaza bank manager Sue Carter with drone pilot Gordon McCabe. Picture: Trevor Collens
Westpac Northlands Plaza bank manager Sue Carter with drone pilot Gordon McCabe. Picture: Trevor Collens

GORDON McCabe is one of Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club’s drone pilots who have been keeping watch over the water to keep beachgoers safe.

The volunteer has been with the club for six years and been doing drone patrols for about 12 months.

“We’ve got about seven at the moment – there’s four others getting training up next week,” he said.

Mr McCabe said they looked out for rips, people in distress and marine life, including sharks.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drone on Mullaloo beach. Picture: Trevor Collens

“It’s mainly marine hazards we are looking for,” he said.

“Mullaloo is not too bad a beach – it’s mainly dolphins and seals we’ve seen, not too many shark sightings.”

Surf Life Saving WA has been operating the government-supported drone patrol since 2016 and Westpac this month launched a partnership with surf life savers to fund patrols as well.

The sponsorship rolls out 51 drones across the country, using innovative technology to give surf lifesavers more eyes in the sky at patrolled beaches.

Seven drones will operate at WA beaches, including Mullaloo, Trigg, City Beach, Cottesloe, Leighton, Secret Harbour and in the South-West at Smiths Beach and Meelup.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drone. Picture: Trevor Collens

Mr McCabe said having the drones helped the club keep watch for longer during its weekend patrols than a helicopter would as it moves along the Perth coast, and they benefited from local knowledge as well.

“We know where the rips usually start, we know where the marine life usually enters,” he said.

Mullaloo’s voluntary drone patrol runs from 8.30am to noon on weekends and helps patrol Ocean Reef and Iluka during abalone fishing sessions.

“It’s very beneficial for the abalone because there are that many people in the water,” Mr McCabe said.

“It’s good for normal patrols too – we can cover outside and inside the normal patrolled area.

“It’s given people more confidence to go in the water when they know there are no sharks in the water.”