Local surfers from the social group “Sisters of Stoke (SOS)”   hit the beach near Bournemouth pier on St. Patrick’s Day Sunday last week, not only to catch the cool spring waves but to learn bystander rescue techniques from local surf, SUP and safety training organisation Surf Steps.

The term ‘bystander’ describes any member of the public, be they family, friend, or stranger, attempting to rescue someone in distress. However, it can be extremely hazardous for the bystanders if they don’t understand and assess the risks or have knowledge of rescue principles/techniques.

This is the first time this training programme has run in the UK. SALT (Surfers Awareness in Lifesaving Techniques) was designed by a team of Huntington Beach lifeguards, in California, US, to provide aquatic emergency response guidelines and techniques to surfing members of the public.

Andy training the group in surfboard rescues

The program teaches The 3R’s:

  • Recognition of potential hazards and victims.
  • Reaction to people in need, with consideration of one’s own safety first.
  • Response from lifeguards, emergency services and surfers.

The Sisters of Stoke (SOS) said much of what they learned on Sunday was new to them. The SALT program changed the way they think about people who end up in unsafe situations in the water. SALT teaches that a crisis can happen to anyone at any time and that surfers should have an obligation to look after one another, especially when there is no lifeguard patrol.

“It’s rewarding to be in a program that’s not just about surfing — it’s about helping out others,” “It is going to have a ripple effect. … With all the people here today, you know they are going to save lives in the future.” Mar, SOS

The group took turns in training being the person in trouble and then, rescuer, then assistance. Andy, Surf Steps’ trainer, showed the group how to identify if the person was in trouble, how to secure them, and then how to start the person’s safe return to shore.

“We realised that many bystander rescues were conducted by surfers who are already out there surfing. If you surf long enough, it is not a matter of if you will rescue someone — it’s when.” Andy, Surf Steps

SALT instructors tell participants that many rescues will also need a response from lifeguards or other emergency medical services. A big issue is that many untrained people trying to help in these situations without knowledge and coordination can make it more difficult.

In the US, The SALT program is run by Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division and is free to any local surf groups. Those interested can email marinesafetyeducation@surfcity-hb.org to set up a class.

Interested in similar programs for Surf or SUP groups in your local area? Contact Andy, Director of Surf Steps by email: andy@surfsteps.co.uk

Big thanks to Sistas of Surf for being part of our top 1st-time trial of SALT!

Last and no means least, Ian and Terry at Havana Beach Hotel for being the stand-up members of the local community by providing their awesome venue for the classroom and changing facilities! Legends:-)