Will drones be the new instrument for sea rescue? An experiment in the use of this multifunctional flight tool starts from the Venetian city of Chioggia and is already arousing a great deal of curiosity. The project, for the use of impermeable drones equipped with lifebelts for assistance and rescue at sea, started in June

The advantage of using drones for rescue and safety at sea is above all a question of time and operational advantages: with them it is possible to rapidly locate people needing intervention, and then organise help with great speed and precision even in bad weather or risk for the rescuers themselves.

We know that often, in rough seas, a person is hard to spot because of the height of the waves. Using a drone makes the locating process easier and first aid would arrive from the drone itself.

THE FIRST EXPERIMENT IN SPAIN
An experiment in using impermeable drones for the sea rescue was started for the first time on a beach in Tarragona, in the Spanish region of Catalonia, where – as far back as 2016– tests began on a new technology for sea rescue. The idea came from a local policeman, Daniel Olmo, who adapted a lifebelt for transport by a drone.

The drone model used was a small one equipped with 3 batteries that gave up to an hour’s flight. Its maximum speed was 70 km per hour, but at an average speed of 30-40 km per hour the drone could cover a vast area of sea. Flying over a large area, it sent back images of the emergency situation, which were studied by rescue personnel and could help them take the right decisions.

Now, as soon as a lifeguard gives the alarm, the drone takes off automatically and flies to the site of the emergency; in this way we know the exact situation right away. From this came the idea for the project and personally I think it’s a good idea, so we’re carrying it forward.Vicente Luna, head of the Cunit research teams

The lifeguard drone was much appreciated by the Spanish civil defence and Cunit was the first town to adopt it permanently. Olmo, the policeman who first had the idea, said: “In the latest test we carried out, the drone flew a kilometre and a half offshore, dropped the lifebelt exactly where we wanted and remained there to survey the situation until the rescue boat arrived and then flew back.”

PROGRESS IN SEA SAFETY

At the Sea Drone Tech Summit 2018 inaugurated in November in Gallipoli, interesting innovations emerged in the use of drones for safety at sea and the monitoring of waters.

In particular underwater drones, naval drones and aerial drones for marine use were presented, and study began on increasingly complex solutions, useful in all areas of marine safety: from extra-large drones able to transport an inflatable boat – to be used in shipwrecks – to true rescue drones designed to pick people directly out of the sea or from boats and bring them to dry land, through to lifeboat drones, boats without crews designed for rescue in rough seas.

Just last year the Royal Navy experimented with using drones for sea rescue that could also drop life-saving equipment: they were the Minerva models, generally used for transporting heavy loads. Collaborating in the experiments were also the companies Malloy Aeronautics and Planck Aerosystems.

The fully impermeable drones which, from summer 2022, will operate on the Chioggia shoreline. When a swimmer in difficulty is spotted, the lifeguard can ask for drone support via radio from the closest pilot: once it reaches the person in danger, the drone will drop a lifebelt that inflates on contact with the water

The drone in the test managed to locate a mannequin in the waters of the island of Horsea and then dropped a test package which, in the future, could be equipped with elements useful for initial intervention such as a life raft or a lifebelt.

During the first tests the drones were controlled directly from ships in movement; later tests involved the use of a mat attached to the bridge of the boat so that, once in the air, the drones could use their on-board systems to locate exactly the landing point.

THE CHIOGGIA PROJECT

The project of using drones for assistance and rescue at sea was conceived and started in Chioggia last summer, in consideration of the many incidents that occurred at sea.

In particular, because of unstable weather or sometimes for imprudence, often the harbourmaster had to provide assistance both to yachtsmen in serious difficulty and to bathers overcome by the waves; in August the problem of incidents and sea rescues was of significant proportions.

In addition, not only those who venture imprudently offshore without taking notice of such warnings as red flags can find themselves overcome by the waves: often those who go boating in summer don’t take into account possible changes in weather conditions or handle the vessel imprudently.

Thus, it will be very interesting to verify the results of the experiment that started this summer in Chioggia, an innovation on the Italian scene.

Presentation of the rescue drones in Chioggia, with the team that has started the initiative before the summer swimming season

Following the example of the use of drones on Spanish beaches, in Chioggia too drones will be used that can overfly the water, locate people in danger even if they have not been precisely located earlier, and provide tools for initial assistance.

The fundamental parts of this pilot initiative will be the technological and human factors. Using sophisticated remote piloting systems specialising in sea rescue, the drones – piloted from land by operators guiding completely impermeable crafts – will be able to directly reach the person in distress.
The use of these instruments, that can also land and take off from the water, will make intervention times faster and, in case of particularly adverse sea and weather conditions, will limit the risks for rescue personnel.

The devices will be equipped with lifebelts which, unhooked from the drone on contact with the water, will inflate automatically to offer initial help. 4 pilots will be in radio contact with the lifeguards, who will be able to ask them to intervene in case of need.

The service is active along the Chioggia shoreline from June 1st to August 31st.

The fully impermeable drones which, from summer 2022, will operate on the Chioggia shoreline. When a swimmer in difficulty is spotted, the lifeguard can ask for drone support via radio from the closest pilot: once it reaches the person in danger, the drone will drop a lifebelt that inflates on contact with the water

The qualifying course for aspiring rescue drone pilots will begin right away, and this summer we will start up a revolutionary project, the first in Italy, which will help support the important and highly qualified work of our lifeguards, to bring initial help to people in difficulty at sea.Mauro Armelao, Chioggia mayor

The lifeguards will not be replaced by the drones but will be able to intervene knowing that the person in the water already has the support. The system could also be used for assistance in coastal yachting, perhaps in recovering people in the water or as an auxiliary tool for the Coast Guard.

So, technology gives a hand to tourism; at the basis of everything, the hope is that whoever goes to scene next summer, whether on the beach or in a boat, does so with awareness of the weather conditions and their abilities as swimmers or yachtsmen.

Mayor of Chioggia Mauro Amelao with Francesco Garganese, national president of the “Sorveglianza Aerea Territoriale” (SAT) Odv of civil defence and of the civil defence drone school, certified by Enac and formed in December 2018, plus members of the category associations adhering to the initiative Rescue Drones