Originating in early 20th century Australia, the movement has expanded globally to other countries including Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.
Surf Lifesaving originated in Australia in 1906 in response to drownings at local beaches in Sydney. Such groups became necessary following the relaxing of laws prohibiting daylight bathing on Australian beaches. Volunteer groups of men were trained in lifesaving methods and patrolled the beaches as lifeguards looking after public safety.
Surf Lifesavers are volunteers that typically patrol in groups under a patrol captain for a given period of time on weekend and public holidays under a roster system. The patrolled area of the beach is marked out with flags and beachcombers are encouraged to swim between the flags. Those wishing to use surf craft are required to remain outside the flags.
To be a surf lifesaver you should hold a Surf Rescue Certificate and pass an annual proficiency test. Lifesavers on patrol wear red and yellow uniforms to provide protection against the sun and wind. These uniforms provide high visibility and are easy to swim in or can be used as a rescue aid.
Each surf lifesaving club also has a competition cap with distinct colours or patterns. These are worn during competition and for training on the beach.
Surf Lifesavers provide important lifeguard services on beaches in Australia on weekends and public holidays throughout the patrol season on a volunteer basis. In New South Wales the season coincides with the beginning of the September school holidays and finishes on ANZAC Day. They also provide year-round on-call volunteer rescue services in most areas known as Support Services. Support Services operate to augment the patrols on the beach by providing surveillance away from the flag areas and emergency back-up when required.
Surf Lifesavers are distinguished in Australia from paid lifeguards which are generally employed by the relevant Local Government authority and patrol the beach throughout the year. Lifeguards also patrol lakes, pools, and other aquatic venues.
In the UK, SLSA GB has a long history of voluntary members patrolling local beaches, offering advice, first aid and rescue services. This continues today and is a vital service to the community. Many local authorities provide a lifeguard service from May to September on popular beaches. In some areas RNLI Lifeguards operate on behalf of the local authority.