Drones are fast becoming a common sight in our sky and not often a welcome one. There is something slightly creepy about the faint buzz that gives away their presence and then the sight of the spindly little craft hovering overhead, spying for an unseen operator not far away.

But the proliferation of any new technology normally bring benefits as well as curses and drones may have much to offer those who save lives.

Surf lifesavers at Muriwai Beach will be using drones this summer to see if they enable people to be rescued quicker and reduce risks for rescuers. As we report today, heavy duty drones may even be able to drop flotation devices to swimmers in distress.

It takes just 2-3 minutes to launch a drone as opposed to 10 minutes or more to get a surfboat out. If the emergency occurs in heavy sea near rocks it may be impossible to use a boat.


In those circumstances lifeguards have to call in a rescue helicopter. If a drone can drop flotation equipment to the person, the benefits in speed and cost should be considerable.

The drone camera could relay footage to a rescue boat and may even be possible to speak through the drones to the person in difficulties, advising them what to do.

Drones of the type to be trialled at Muriwai this summer cost $4000-$5000 and about 20c an hour to run on rechargeable batteries. If they prove effective in rescues, the public might well ask whether they could not be in the air constantly on weekend when beaches are thronged.

They would seem ideal for shark patrol and spotting rips as well as augmenting the eyes of lifeguards trying to monitor swimmers beyond the breakers.

For that level of safety, donors and ratepayers would surely provide additional funds to provide surf clubs with them.

Muriwai will be training its members to use the drones this summer and Surf Life Saving New Zealand is treating the trial as a pilot for a national programme. So the day might not be far away when the sight and sound of a hovering drone becomes an accepted company at our beaches - so long as they are identifiable of course.

The search and rescue benefits of drone technology will not be confined to the sea, on land they can search far more closely than a plane and far more cheaply than a helicopter.

They are going to be more than a new toy.