Our guardian angels of the ocean and inland waterways
The voluntary lifesaving movement started back in 1911 as a branch of the Royal Lifesaving Society, with the formation of the Surf Lifesaving Association of South Africa in May of 1933. Since then the organisation, now known as Lifesaving South Africa, has grown from strength to strength and administers 80 clubs which undertake duties, not only on coastal waters, but at inland aquatic sites as well.
Voluntary work is a key aspect of club life as its members perform duties strictly on an unpaid basis, serving members of the general public in rostered squads. Usually youngsters, both boys and girls, who have a love of and affinity for the ocean, join at an early age and must first go through the ‘Nippers’ training program, where the emphasis is on playing safely in and near water.
At the age of 14 and 15 they enter a Junior Lifeguard phase and commence training for this ‘rookie’ award which, finally, at the age of 16, leads them into the training which culminates in receiving the ultimate prestigious ‘Lifeguard Award’. This achievement allows them to provide rescue and related services.
To qualify, one has to be found proficient and competent in all aspects of risk prevention, surf rescue, first aid and trauma management. The lifeguard’s status is kept current by undergoing an annual re-test, carried out by appointed and accredited Assessors who ensure that a high standard of rescue is maintained.
Emphasis is placed on averting and preventing serious occurrences, with the purpose of keeping the number of actual rescues lower. Roaming inspectors, who are also members of the voluntary movement, carry out periodic and surprise visits to ensure duty squads are always on their toes and ready to respond to any emergency situation at a moment’s notice.
Skills are sharpened and tested through various annual inter-club and inter-provincial competitions in the various facets of lifesaving, such as: surf swimming, board rescue procedures, iron man events, beach sprints and so on. Not only do these competitions keep members fit and ready, they also create a wonderful sense of camaraderie amongst the members who often remain friends for life.
Squads of qualified club members do voluntary duty on our bathing beaches and inland waterways on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays. This relieves or assists the professional lifeguards who are employed by local municipalities. It is not uncommon for voluntary lifeguards who have obtained the required qualifications to turn professional and make a full time career of their skills, in the employment of the local authorities.
Part of the organisation’s objectives is public education, creating an awareness of water safety and members are often involved in outreach programs.
Whilst a degree of financial support is given by National Lottery, clubs are still required to raise funds in order to travel to competitions and maintain vital rescue equipment. So next time you see these guardian angels performing fund raising life saving ‘demonstrations’ during holiday times, or undertaking lifeguarding duties in the internationally recognised red and yellow kit, spare a thought to what their existence means to us and dip generously into your pocket in order to assist club funds.
A list of active voluntary lifesaving clubs on the KZN South Coast Ugu District are: Margate Saints operating from St Mike’s Beach; Park Rynie operating at Isipingo Main Beach; Scottburgh Club based at Scottburgh Main Beach and the Umtamvuna group who serve Glenmore Beach.
Other clubs in KZN and in the Ethekwini District are: Amanzimtoti, Anstey’s Beach, Ballito, Durban Surf (North Beach), Fast Track (Umgababa), Marine (Addington), Suncoast Pirates, Sunkist, Umhlanga Rocks, Warnadoone and Winklespruit. The services of these lifesavers is thus far-reaching on the KZN southern coastline.