Pink South African rescue buoys have saved 43 lives since 2017 – and now Australia is interested in them

Business Insider SA
An NSRI pink rescue buoy
  • At unguarded beaches bystanders often drown trying to help others in distress.
  • With a flotation device, untrained bystanders have a much better chance at successful rescue.
  • South Africa’s pink rescue buoy system is now being tested by Australia.

Pink rescue buoys pioneered in South Africa are now being tested in Australia, after being credited with saving 43 lives in SA over the past two years.

South Africa has a 2,850km coastline, most of its swimmable and much of it unguarded. It remains impossible to have lifeguards on station at every one of the country’s beaches – and when bystanders step in to help, tragedy sometimes follows.

Untrained bystanders often underestimate the severity of panic a swimmer in difficulty experiences, but when assisted by a flotation device, the chances of a successful rescue are much higher. 

The risk of bystander-rescue drownings saw the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) develop one of the world’s best peer rescue programmes, with its bright pink buoys. The rescue buoy is mounted prominently on a large boards with simple instructions and tips. That board also helps to fund the R1,500 pink rescue buoy sites, providing some advertising real estate. 

The buoys could have been any colour, but the NSRI’s logic was that luminous pink was by far the most recognisable colour for bystanders to spot at any beach. It also happens to more recognisable for airborne rescue teams than conventional surf lifesaving red or yellow.  The pink colour also has a clever ownership attribute. If you see one of these luminous pink torpedo buoys in anyone’s possession, you can be sure it has been unlawfully taken from an official NSRI site.

There are now 50 of these devices stationed between Lambert’s Bay and St Lucia (with a few at freshwater locations too), and they are working. Since 2017 the NSRI’s pink rescue buoys are credited with saving 43 lives. 

A member of the NSRI was recently invited to Sydney, where he present the South African pink buoy system to an audience from the highly regarded Surf Life Saving NSW

A public partition process is currently underway in Australia, which will steer the final policy on bystander rescue devices. But the NSRI’s entire methodology of evaluation, colour selection, placement and even the funding model – makes it a solid contender. 

The NSRI’s next mission is to extend its distribution of pink bystander rescue buoys to South Africa’s freshwater locations, which still suffer way too many primary drownings. 

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