A beachgoer points to the missing person's section
A beachgoer points to the missing person's section
1 December 2015

Queensland’s surf lifesavers will have a powerful new weapon in their arsenal as they battle to keep international tourists safe on our beaches this summer.

SurfSpeak – a water-resistant booklet with phrases in 11 different languages – has been designed by University of Queensland staff member Mark Schroder in collaboration with Surf Life Saving Queensland to help surf lifesavers communicate easily with non-English speaking beachgoers.

It will be trialled at beaches at Surfers Paradise, Green Island and South Bank this summer.

Mr Schroder said the ability to communicate in multiple languages could be key to saving lives on Queensland beaches.

“This booklet allows surf lifesavers to communicate on the spot to ensure important messages are understood, be it on the beach, the edge of the surf or even in the waves where they can see a dangerous situation unfolding,” he said.

“Our hope is that it will make surf lifesavers’ jobs a lot easier, save them time, and helped them communicate the correct message to people to keep them out of trouble and potentially save lives.”

Mr Schroder, who works at UQ’s Advancement Office, said SurfSpeak listed phrases to help deal with safety situations on the beach.  

“The SurfSpeak booklet lists the phrases in English followed by the translation, allowing the lifesaver and beachgoer to understand each other. It also contains a section to convey messages when a person goes missing,” he said.

“The missing person section uses symbols to help the lifesaver gather information to speed up the search process, such as the missing person’s name, age, gender, medical conditions, and clothing worn.”

Thirty-five of the 78 people who have drowned at Queensland beaches since 2005 were international visitors or migrants.

“With the increase in tourists from countries where English is not the first language, or rarely spoken at all, the need for improved communications tools was clear,” Mr Schroder said.

SurfSpeak features phrases in Japanese, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Hindi, Malaysian, German, Arabic, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.

Mr Schroder thought of the idea while watching the TV show Bondi Rescue.

“I noticed that the surf lifesavers and lifeguards were having significant problems communicating with non-English speakers,” he said.

“I went with a concept that I saw while working at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games that allowed English-speakers to communicate with taxi drivers.”

Mr Schroder and SLSQ worked collaboratively on the project. Mr Schroder developed the initiative in his own time and offered the licence to SLSQ at no cost, and hopes to expand the initiative across other sectors.

“I can see this type of booklet being applicable in the wider emergency services – for paramedics, police and firefighters, and possibly also search and rescues,” he said.

Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) coastal safety officer Chantel Fife said the booklet would play a key role over summer.

“Queensland’s beautiful beaches attract thousands, if not millions, of international tourists each and every year, and being able to communicate effectively with these people has proved to be extremely challenging for lifesavers and lifeguards in the past,” she said.

“Even simple messages such as ‘swim between the flags’ can become very difficult to get across when you don’t speak the same language.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this initiative will make our jobs a lot easier on the beach but, more importantly, will also play a key role in directly saving lives along Queensland’s coastline."

Mr Schroder said he would use the skills he developed at ilab (the startup accelerator supported by UniQuest and the Queensland State Government) to commercialise the concept across other industries to fund development and cut the cost of licensing the booklets to community organisations. 

To find out more about SurfSpeak, visit Facebook.com/surfspeak

Media: Mark Schroder, m.schroder@uq.edu.au0403 481 758; Surf Life Saving Queensland Cameron Ward, cward@lifesaving.com.au, 07 3846 8035.