Rescue of the Month

Rescue Methods & Competency

This section details the techniques that have been developed over the years for rescuing people from the surf. The rescue of people is the second most important set of skills taught to lifesavers – prevention being the first.

To evaluate the risk and the method to use in a rescue, the lifesaver needs to assess:

  1. Surf conditions
  2. Patient’s condition
  3. Equipment available
  4. Best rescue method to use

A rescuer may encounter a variety of situations while assisting a person in trouble. All rescues involving white water should be regarded as being particularly critical for the patient. By displaying initiative and resourcefulness in employing rescue techniques, rescuers can overcome the many difficulties and hazards associated with surf and sea rescues.

The ability to put into operation the most effective method of rescue with regard to prevailing conditions comes with being experienced and well trained and is the trademark of the efficient lifesaver.

The following rescue methods are the preferred options. Flexibility, however, is the key to a good rescue. Keep in mind also that all floating items can be considered as rescue aids. Their use is strongly encouraged, should no standard rescue equipment be available.

Rescues without Equipment

Once a person is seen to be in need of help, a lifesaver will proceed quickly to assist and on arrival, attempt to calm and reassure the patient, gaining their confidence. There are a number of methods used to assist patients in returning to shore.

The hip carry is preferred for conscious or unconscious patients, this method involves moving to the rear of the patient and proceeding to shore with the patient ‘clamped’ to their body with their arms. Using a side stroke, the patient can be supported by the hip close to the small of the patient’s back.

Alternatively, in open sea, an armpit tow or a wrist tow can be used, although this method is not recommended during the break, as it does not allow absolute control and contact with the patient.

Rescue Tube

The rescue tube (and optional flippers) is generally available in or near the patrol shelter, laid on the beach or hung up at predetermined points along the patrolled area, or carried by a lifesaver in a rolled up fashion. A tube is rolled up in such a way that when the belt is pulled loose from the rope, the tube and cord will automatically unwind.

A rescuer will don the harness and run toward the water with the tube under arm or in one hand. When the lifesaver reaches approximately knee-deep water depth they throw the rescue tube behind them and swim out to the patient. The tube is thrown to the patient, who normally will instinctively move to grab onto the floating tube and clamber on top of it. The lifesaver needs to once again reassure the patient and calm them down for the trip back to shore.

The rescue tube can be wrapped around a patient to secure them. EAR or Expired Air Resuscitation can be performed in deep water on an unconscious patient using the support of a rescue tube. A tube is strong enough to support two people.

Surf Craft Rescues

The use of surf craft to rescue people from the sea has become an accepted activity on beaches around Australia. The rescue board, manned by a skilled and experienced lifesaver, provides:

  • A fast and reliable means of reaching patients
  • Efficient flotation so that EAR can be commenced in the water
  • Support for a number of persons in the water
  • Confidence to a patient who has been placed on a craft
  • A reliable means of returning a patient to the shore quickly and safely
  • In the event of a group or mass rescue, a board or ski will keep a number of people afloat while supporting rescue operations are put into effect.

Rescue craft should be placed along the beach in strategic locations, ready for use in emergency and clearly visible at all times. Surf clubs carry an adequate number of rescue boards to ensure efficient operations on their beach.

In a board rescue, the lifesaver approaches the patient from the shoreward side and directs the patient to reach across and take hold of the hand grips. Grasping the patient’s leg, they pull the patient onto the craft and position them on the front of the board.

Returning to shore, the lifesaver remains in control of the board, behind the patient in a position between the patient’s legs. An experienced lifesaver will wait for a lull in the surf and use broken waves to speed up the return to shore.

Unconscious patients are secured by the wrist and rolled onto the board. Maintaining the grip on the patient, the lifesaver will then reach over and grasp the rail of the board and roll once again to bring it right way up and move the patient across the deck of the board. In a similar fashion to a conscious patient, the lifesaver mounts the board and completes the rescue.

Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB)

Inflatable rescue boats are an integral part of all surf life saving club’s operations. Indeed, it is the biggest technological advance in rescue techniques in recent years. Members need to become qualified IRB drivers with a separate training certificate required on top of the standard Bronze Medallion.

A proficient Bronze Medallion holder may be called upon to act as a crew member to assist a qualified IRB driver to perform a rescue or carry out surveillance activity.

Accordingly, all active members should have knowledge of and be able to demonstrate the following:

  • The safety precautions to be observed by patrol members
  • How to help launch the IRB into the surf
  • Patient pick-up
  • Inboard EAR (Expired Air Resuscitation)
  • Beaching and patient transport
  • Pre-operational and post-operational requirements

Most surf clubs carry out more rescues in their IRB than any other form of rescue. The quick response and agility of the IRB in the surf makes it a fantastic rescue device. A skilled IRB driver can manage an IRB in very large surf and quickly recover a patient from inside the surf break between two waves. A good crewman is equally important as it is their job to pull the patient from the water and fall back into the boat to carry out resuscitation if required.

IRB’s are equipped with rescue tubes for situations where the crewman may be required to jump out of the boat and swim towards a patient. Such a situation may be in shallow water or around rocks where it is too dangerous for the IRB to venture. IRB drivers also carry a radio in a wet pack for communication with their patrol and Sydney Surf radio. Surf clubs generally use a 25hp motor such as Tohatsu or Johnson.

Rescue Water Craft (RWC)

Consisting of five jet skis sponsored to the Illawarra Branch, the Rescue Water Craft have been patrolling the Illawarra coastline as well as Lake Illawarra at Windang on weekends and public holidays to assist with beach and water supervision and rescue.

These jet skis, or RWC’s, are similar to those used by Council Lifeguards, are also used in the water safety of surf carnivals, ocean swims and other aquatic events. Their quick response and experienced operators make them a valuable part of Surf Life Saving Illawarra.

Emergency Care
We have excellent basic first aid facilities at all patrolled locations. Our volunteers are trained in first aid with an emphasis on resuscitation. All surf lifesaving services in Surf Life Saving Illawarra are equipped with automated external defibrillators. First Aid rooms are typically set up with oxygen, bandages, blankets, stretchers and mobile oxygen kits are very common around the region.

Our membership is trained and equipped to only provide basic first aid and resuscitation. They will call for medical back up at soonest opportunity should it be required.

Our Training
Our volunteer membership is trained in surf rescue techniques. All active members hold their Bronze Medallion award and many hold their IRB Operators, Patrol captains and Silver medallion award.  Typically many lifesavers are trained to use defibrillators and most are proficient with oxygen bag-valve-mask resuscitation.  Lifesavers frequently perform first aid on the beach-going public and often travel within the community performing first aid and resuscitation, even attending vehicle collisions.

Our Resources
We have an active membership of around 1800 lifesavers in the Illawarra. These people have access to rescue and first aid equipment at all of our locations during patrolling hours.

Surf Life Saving Illawarra clubs are linked by radio to communicate with each other and with emergency services. At all times that patrols are on the beaches there is a surfcom operator  monitoring transmissions on the network from the Communications Centre at Surfcom – Belrose. This person liaises between Surf Life Saving and other services and provides a `safety net’ and advisory service for lifesavers at the beach.