January 28 - February 3, 2024: Issue 611


All in the Family: Avalon Beach SLSC father and daughter UAV Pilots are Keeping people safer on our Beaches this Summer

Photo: Avalon Beach SLSC Director of Life Saving (Club Captain) Andrew Clark (centre), with two other Patrol 8 Members, Remo and Alexandra Adoncello, who are both also UAV Pilots - photo taken on Avalon Beach on Australia Day 2024. Photo: AJG/PON

Avalon Beach's first ever drone operation was scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Australia Day.

Remo and Alexandra Adoncello (father and daughter) are both qualified Lifeguard UAV pilots who patrol across the peninsula, Palm Beach being a personal favourite of theirs due to the lovely people from all over Sydney and the world they get to talk to who are curious about what they are doing and why.

They are also both Avalon Beach Lifesavers on Patrol 8. 

Given how busy it is at Avalon and all the rescues and preventative actions that have taken place over the past few weekends along our beaches, members were expecting similar action on Friday, Australia Day, as another hot day was forecast and temperatures quickly rose into the high 30's, sending thousands of people to fill our beaches in search of sea breeze and swimming relief. In these conditions, the UAV provides a valuable and increasing adjunct to traditional Patrol duties. 

Life Member of Avalon Beach SLSC, Roger Sayers OAM, shared an insight on the previous weekend and current conditions:

‘’It was very busy with perfect beach weather 33 degrees, but lots of inexperienced visitors, who despite signs, need to have explained to them why a rip is not the best place for them or their young children to have a dip. 

Currently we have 4 or 5 rips on Avalon Beach, which constrains safe swimming locations for the flags, and require surveillance by patrols. Rips may not a problem for experienced boardriders, but they can be potentially lethal for people unfamiliar with the surf, as recent reports of fatalities elsewhere sadly attest.

There were plenty of preventative actions and IRB and board rescues. All 14 volunteer AM patrol members were fully occupied with surveillance, first aid, warnings, surf safety education, and rescues all morning.''

Avalon Beach SLSC Club Captain Andrew Clark, on duty with Patrol 8 on Australia Day afternoon, explained there have been a reasonable number of rescues with the warmer weather and people coming down to the beach, with all those occurring when people do not swim between the flags.

Witnessing a gentleman being pulled out of a rip outside the flagged area by Patrol Members on arriving at the beach underlined Mr. Clark’s point.

‘’As you can see, you only need to be a 50 metres outside of the flags and find yourself in a rip, as is what happened in that case. Near enough isn’t good enough in these instances.’’


Patrol 8 was on duty from 1pm to 6pm during the heatwave conditions of Australia Day 2024. The Club Captain explained that on busy days the Patrol number, of around 14 members, is boosted by a call out for extra members to join the Patrol and bring the number up to 16+. 

‘’We do this to make sure we can do what’s called a ‘roving Patrol’ and have members right along the beach, and including, today, at the south end of the beach to try and stop people going in where the flags aren’t raised and the Patrol area isn’t. These are called ‘Preventative actions’ to stop people going in where they may need rescuing. This is more than what we usually need but on a busy day, the more hands you have helping with a Patrol, allows for these measures.’’ 

Avalon Beach is Patrolled by volunteer Members up to and including April 25th 2024. For the remainder of this Season Andrew Clark asks that visitors to the beach;

"Please always swim between the flags. Even if you are a local resident and think you know the beach, the conditions can change each day and what was safe yesterday might not be safe today. It's also a good idea to check with the Lifeguards or Lifesavers. They will be happy to talk to you about the risks and dangers and explain things to you.

Avalon Beach looks like a small nice inviting beach, and it is, it’s beautiful, but it has safe areas and it has less safe areas. As always, the safest area is between the flags. We move the flags depending on where the safest areas are. So please, swim between the flags – it’s the safest spot – we put the flags there for a reason."

As Remo and Alexandra Adoncello were on duty as part of Patrol 8, Friday January 26th provided an opportunity to gain insights into UAV use in surf lifesaving. 

Remo is a UAV Pilot with Australian UAV Services - DPI Shark Surveillance and Special Projects. He is also works as a Consultant offering advice and expertise to organisations to help them improve their business performance in terms of operations, profitability, management, structure and strategy – so an asset in terms of being a UAV Pilot with decades of experience in these areas.

Alexandra is a Professional Cinematographer and Photographer, having worked for years internationally and at home on projects that are visually brilliant, the sure sign of someone who has an ‘eye for capturing the essence of what’s there’. Taking on being UAV Pilot as a way of giving back to her community was an obvious progression for her – and a great way to spend time with her dad as a bonus.

As Alexandra explained, ‘’I have a background in film and droning and since we were living in Avalon Beach it felt like an appropriate thing I could do to contribute to my community.’’

Remo said he was already patrolling for Avalon Beach SLSC, ‘’I had my IRB certificate and thought I could add to that by learning more. The UAV came in as a great option. Alike Alexandra I was already flying a UAV through other things I was doing and this presented a good opportunity to put the two together.’’

Did you have to undertake a course?

Alexandra: Yes we did. For the first week it’s half a day of study and then tests. We’ve both actually undertaken a few course levels above the initial course work learning so we can fly UAVs 25 kilos and above. To do that you have to do the next level of proficiency.’’

You are both UAV Pilots right along our peninsula – do you have to change what you are doing to match in with each beach?

Remo: Yes, you do have to look at it; different locations require different set-ups, patterns of flying and there’s different conditions on every beach. 

What are you looking for?

Alexandra: Sharks, three specific species predominantly. We also utilise the UAV’s for search and rescue as well. 

Remo: We also use the UAV’s to look for other dangers in the area – that could be a tree trunk coming into towards the beach and flags, for instance, or it could be someone who has been fishing off the rocks who needs help. This allows us to quickly let the Lifeguards know that someone needs some help and they can then deploy an IRB or jetski out there, depending on which beach an incident occurs at.

Alexandra: It’s also an extra set of eyes in the sky for those on the beach Patrolling, especially when we have conditions like today where the heat has drawn so many people to the beach.

Remo has been serving as a Volunteer at Avalon Beach SLSC for 5 years and as a UAV Pilot for 4 years, making him one of our areas earliest assets in this relatively new equipment for Surf Lifesaving. Alexandra has been droning for 3 years and this season marks her second year Patrolling at Avalon.

Which is your favourite beach to be on?

Alexandra: This one, Avalon.

Why Avalon?

Remo:  It’s home.

Alexandra: yes, it’s home. Palm Beach is a close second. 

Remo: There are always good conditions at Palm Beach and the people there are really friendly as well, so you get to know everybody. At Palm Beach it’s like a pathway where everybody walks past and so you meet so many people on a regular basis and they become friends.

Alexandra: It’s also a tourist hotspot and so we have lots of visitors from overseas who aren’t too familiar with the water conditions. There are extra elements and actions the UAV can be utilised in at Palm Beach.

Introduced during the 2019/20 season, Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) operations are relatively new to Surf Lifesaving on our local beaches. 

UAV operations are primarily aerial surf safety patrols using drones to provide additional surveillance of the beach environment to enhance the safety of the public. This includes monitoring surf zones, identifying rips, swimmers in difficulty and looking for other hazards such as sharks.

UAV operators are an integral part of the Patrol team on the beach and Surf Lifesaving – some of the tasks associated with this role are to provide surveillance for:

  • The patrol area
  • Junior activities (Nippers)
  • Club training
  • Special event such as ocean swims and triathlons
  • Local community activities like surfing comps
  • Major events like Nutri-Grain ironman Series,  Country championships and Branch carnivals
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Land searches at the request of Police
  • Marine fauna surveys
  • Beach Assessment and Mapping
  • Aerial Data Collection and Analysis

Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches Branch operates six UAV’s at both fixed locations and in the Surf Rescue response vehicles for quick deployment. The UAV’s are used for beach surveillance, search and rescues and any taskings required by emergency services.

setting up an exclusion zone

Anyone who wishes to fly a drone for SLSNSW is required to undertake an Operator Induction Program (OIP). This program consist of an online course including operationally specific information including identification of marine life and other hazards such as rip currents, as well as a full day of practical flight training with an instructor. 

You need to obtain an Aviation Reference Number (ANR) and a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Operator Accreditation from CASA. You are guided through these processes upon successful application and placement. Upon Completion of the training, you will be qualified for the UAV Operator role. 

Joining the volunteer lifesaving movement introduces you to a community of like-minded individuals who share a common goal - ensuring the safety of others. The bonds formed with fellow lifesavers create a network that extends beyond the beach. 

If you're interested in 'giving back' to your community, Avalon Beach SLSC's next Bronze Medallion course starts Sunday 4 February. 

Register your interest here: https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing/1082816

Report and photos by A J Guesdon.