SWIMMERS will be protected by drones piloted by surf lifesavers at Cottesloe, City Beach, Secret Harbour, Mullaloo and Quinns Rocks beaches daily until early February.
“This technology is as much a game changer for surf lifesavers as the introduction of RIB dinghies in the 1970s and heart-starting defribulators in the 1980s,” Surf Life Saving WA general manager Chris Peck said at the launch of the drone service at Cottesloe Beach this morning.
Australia Surf Life Saving drone pilots are expected to fly the small aircraft with cameras once every hour to give lifesavers ashore up-to-date images of conditions at the edges of beaches and offshore.
The drones will fly immediately over the water after their take-offs to look for rips and those being formed, any passing sharks and swimmers out of sight of lifesavers ashore.
Mr Peck said the drones would be invaluable if the Surf Life Saving WA helicopter was called away from a shark sighting.
“Last weekend, lifeguards were able to put up the drone at Cottesloe for 25 minutes and track a shark,” he said.
The service will operate daily, but is expected to be most effective between 6am and 11am before sea breezes reduce visibility in the water and prevent the 2kg drones flying properly.
Multiple batteries will be kept at the drones’ beachside bases, and during flights they must stay within 400m of their pilots’ line of sight at an altitude of 120m.
Mr Peck said despite the limits, the drones would allow lifesavers to see swimmers beyond their patrol bases’ horizons, and could be put aboard an all-terrain vehicle to go to an emergency outside of their immediate patrol areas.
At Cottesloe, the flying area will be from 400m south of the Cottesloe to Peter’s Pool, an potentially up to the North Cottesloe dog beach while the service will operate between the two groynes at City Beach.
The drones have cost surf lifesavers $100,000 to set up for their first year, including training 20 pilots, with an additional 30 still being trained.
Mr Peck said the drones could attract a new type of volunteer lifesaver who would provide real-time images to their surf-trained colleagues and pictures that could later be used to educate the public and other beach users about the dangers of the sea.