Lifesaving drones – new tech for the jetski?

I am one of Surf Life Saving Sydney‘s Rescue Water Craft (jetski) operators for Surf Life Saving. The skis themselves are technically brilliant, press a button for on/off and they work every time despite some harsh conditions and treatment. Like most of life saving there is relatively little tech involved: you, the slightly modified ski, some floats and ropes, big waves and luck.

Surf Lifesaving jetski

Existing tech

Existing tech consists of the ski, radio helmet and and an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). Recently I’ve started to wonder what tech we could add to the ski in the near future to make it an even better life saving machine – I’ve already ordered a drone and I saw some cool new cameras at SXSW so here are some suggestions which I’ll update over time. Please do leave comments with any more suggestions.


Maroubra - Google Maps

First the basics, Surfcom (our control centre) should be able to locate the jetski without asking – currently we check in every 30 minutes or so by radio. But it would be better if surfcom knew the location without asking (and if, say, the ski was upside down) and this is pretty easy with existing tech. The existing EPIRB is only for specific emergencies and not suitable for this continuous tracking. Map of Maroubra by Google Maps.

Streaming and on board camera

CCTV streaming

The more I add to this list, the more obvious it becomes that everything connected to the jetski (including an on-board camera) will need to be streamed back to Surfcom because often the jetski operator will be too busy at the relevant moment to look at it or things will be happening too quickly for the operator to make sense of it. The above image is of a traffic CCTV control room in the UK, Surfcom may look the same quite soon – combining beach cams, Lifesaver 1 (helicopter), offshore boats and jetski.

On board cameras including thermal imaging

Thermal imaging

We have to wear a radio helmet anyway so thermal imaging equipment could easily be fitted to this, stowed when not in use and images beamed to Surfcom. The ski doesn’t operate after dark but this would be useful if could be quickly used to look for, say, a fisherman washed off rocks. This article about first responders  has some background on thermal imaging.

Underwater cameras

Here are some prototypes I saw at SXSW – they look pretty tough and have a a wireless connection to a screen, some other prototypes were not much bigger than a tennis ball. In many situations these wouldn’t be much use (surf or white water) or might require an operator other than the jetski driver to monitor the screens via a streamed signal. They’d certainly give a better view than the naked eye above the water, deployment would need to be super-quick.

Underwater cameras

Clever buoy

Along similar lines, the ski could be linked to nearby Clever buoy shark detectors. An interesting project being developed in Sydney. There have been a number of Great White’s at beaches this year around Sydney (photo below Nicholas Tonks / SMH).  The Hammerhead that I saw on patrol a few weeks ago near Maroubra didn’t need detecting – it was happy to swim on the surface behind a fishing boat waiting for them to catch something.

Clever buoy shark detector

Great White - SMH and Nicholas Tonks

Deployable drones

These are probably more useful to Surfcom to see what the jetski is doing than to the jetski operator but I already have a Hexo drone being delivered soon. These drones will follow the user in preset patterns rather than needing to be controlled.

Hexo drone


I’ve seen a few videos about drones actually rescuing people but this is far off at the moment – we’ll see military applications way before these kind of useful civilian ones.


I include these with some hesitation – they do fit to a jetski, they do allow fast movement underwater but what happens to you, the ski or a patient when there are rocks nearby is anyone’s guess.

Jetski jetpack underwater

Coming soon #jetpacks #flyboards #theislandsydney

Posted by The Island on Wednesday, 18 March 2015