Lifeguards use Drones to Save Lives: Spotting Sharks & Rescuing Swimmers

Lifeguards use Drones to Save Lives: Spotting Sharks & Rescuing Swimmers

With the commercial drone industry's extensive growth in recent years, it’s no surprise that new and exciting applications are being discovered every day all over the world. The uses for drones are endless, with drone-friendly technology being developed to better take advantage of unique and adaptable innovation. One of these uses has been aiding lifeguards in the job they do best; saving lives.


Australian pro surfer Matt Wilkinson in 2017 (Surfer Magazine)

A few weeks ago, Australian pro surfer Matt Wilkinson was paddling out at Sharpes Beach in Australia when a drone operator spotted a shark trailing the surfer and broadcasted a warning. Wilkinson was unaware of the over 6ft long shark that was at one point only inches from him, which he was thankfully able to avoid due to an extra pair of eyes in the sky. This drone was part of a fleet supplied by the New South Wales government in order to survey 34 beaches for possible shark sightings. Not only are commercial drones helpful to warn surfers or swimmers in the water of sharks nearby, but it has been reported that the sound of the drones also acts as a deterrent to sharks.

The success of this program is evident as Australia has seen a decline in unprovoked shark attacks from the most recent 5-year average. Drones are also starting to be used by lifeguards for shark spotting purposes in the United States, the country that accounts for nearly 50% of all shark attacks worldwide, according to the University of Florida. Increasing the use of drones to survey beaches could not only reduce the number of shark attacks but also save time and money, as current methods are often tedious and costly, requiring lifeguards to take out jet-skis or fly spotter plains in order to detect sharks.


Picture of Matt Wilkinson’s shark encounter captured by drone (The Australian)

Shark spotting is not the only way that drones have kept swimmers safe, they have also been used to rescue swimmers at risk of drowning. Drones were used in Australia to deploy flotation devices to two teenagers caught in rough seas off the coast of northern New South Wales back in 2018. Lifeguards were on the beach testing out the new drone when they received a distress signal and were able to fly the drone out to the struggling swimmers. Once it reached the swimmers, the drone then dropped an inflatable rescue pod for them to hold on to as they swam back to shore. This was the first time that a rescue had been completed with the help of a drone deploying flotation devices. The whole process was reported to have only taken 70 seconds, opposed to the 6 minutes it would have taken for the lifeguards to rescue the swimmers without the help of the drone. These drones have made lifeguards’ jobs easier and safer, while also reducing the amount of time distressed swimmers would have to spend waiting for rescue.


A drone carrying an inflatable rescue pod over Bigolia Beach, Australia (AFP)

The introduction of drones as life-saving tools for lifeguards will greatly increase the safety of our beaches, reducing shark-human interactions and more efficiently carrying out rescue operations, allowing people all over the world to safely enjoy the natural wonders our planet has to offer.

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/08/921601246/video-australian-surfer-narrowly-escapes-shark-after-he-was-alerted-by-drone
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/yearly-worldwide-summary/
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/shark-surprise-drone-reveals-unexpected-find-california-beach-n378616
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-42731112
https://qz.com/1182580/lifeguards-in-australia-make-history-by-using-a-drone-to-rescue-swimmers/