Life jackets and helmets now mandatory, despite fury
FAR from being "laughable", the mandatory use of life jackets and helmets by surf lifesaving athletes will save lives and help them to better perform rescues in rough conditions.
Surf Life Saving Australia deputy president Ralph Devlin said the SLSA board had decided at the weekend to approve all recommendations of a report on the use of personal protective equipment in surf sports.
As reported in the Sunshine Coast Daily on Friday, former ironman Shannon Eckstein had gathered the signatures of ironmen and women across Australia who opposed the move to make athletes wear life jackets while using surf skis, boats and boards.
Concerns were also raised by Sunshine Coast surf lifesavers and families about the practicality of wearing personal protective equipment while racing.
But Mr Devlin said the SLSA had been acting on the recommendation of the State Coroner following the death of surf lifesaver Saxon Bird in 2010 when it commissioned the development of a customised vest for lifesavers.
"The development of the vests by SLSA was in direct response to a recommendation by the Queensland Coroner arising from the inquest into the death of Saxon Bird in 2010," he said.
"The vest is meant to be an enhancement of safety in competition, in accordance with the Coroner's ruling.
"He recommended that SLSA investigate the use of flotation vests in board and ski competition."
He said the purpose of SLSA competitions was to make all lifesavers in Australia "rescue ready".
"Our competition prepares our lifesavers to rescue people in difficult situations," he said.
Mr Devlin said SLSA would continue to assess every situation individually and if the surf was too dangerous, events would be called off.
But surf lifesavers had to be ready for rough seas, too, he said.
"Why are we just going to compete in flat seas? How will that make us rescue ready for anything?" he said.
An 18-month trial of a specially designed life jacket would now follow, he said.
"Consultation with our athletes will take place throughout that period," he said.
Mr Devlin said the vests had been specially designed and were an Australian first.
"We have to have one that allows people to compete without hindrance but nonetheless is an extra safety measure," he said.