WATER safety has been boosted with Waratah Beach Marine Search and Rescue (MSAR) volunteers completing intensive emergency preparedness training using the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service in a first for the region.

The training exercise will help ensure local crews are prepared to conduct search and rescue operations in the unfortunate event of a marine emergency.

The exercise focused on emergency management skills for Bass Coast-specific incidents, including familiarising the Waratah MSAR crew with extended winch operations, winching from a vessel, and testing each crew’s search and rescue capabilities to help keep local communities safer this summer.

Lifesaving Victoria general manager lifesaving operations Liam Krige said although this was the first time the Waratah crew had been able to complete this type of training, he hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

“Our teams operate in extreme environments so exercises like these are critical to skills maintenance, ensuring crews are in the best possible position to respond in real-life incidents and delivering better outcomes for the local community,” Mr Krige said.

“It was an extremely beneficial and successful endeavour and further opportunities will be explored.”

Waratah Beach Surf Life Saving Club director of lifesaving services Keegan Clarke said the exercise was invaluable for both the MSAR crews and greater South Gippsland community.

“This training gives everyone involved the chance to experience conditions and prepare for challenges like wind and surf specific to the area, which are likely to be contributing factors in a real-life surf and rescue operation,” Mr Clarke said.

“It also gives our members a boost, being able to participate in something this significant. It’s not every day you get to train with a helicopter.”

The training comes as crews prepare for a season like no other with Victoria experiencing a spate of fatal drowning incidents, the likes of which haven’t been seen since record keeping began.

Thirty-five drowning deaths have occurred in the state since July 1, 2020, surpassing the previous financial year’s total of 34 drowning fatalities.

It is a timely reminder to beachgoers to check conditions before heading to the beach, swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags and supervise kids.