The story of the IRB - Inflatable Rescue Boat

TitleThe story of the IRB - Inflatable Rescue Boat
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsWake-Walker, E
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other NumbersPO-27

­This is the intriguing story of how the Australian surf came to be conquered by the seemingly puny 12ft inflatable rescue boat, the rubber ducky as it came to be known. It is now the single most important means of rescuing people from the surf, not just in Australia but in many countries across the world.

The story originates in the early 1960s when a young Australian, Warren Mitchell, working as a lifeguard on a north Cornish beach, witnessed early trials of inflatable rescue boats (which led to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution adopting them into their fleet). He took the concept back to New South Wales and, in the face of enormous scepticism, proved to his countrymen that the IRB was a quicker, safer alternative to all the traditional methods used to get to people drowning 'beyond the break'.

The presentation includes accounts of recent daring rescues in mountainous surf as well as a look back over the centuries at how sea bathing and surfing first became popular and at the 900BC origins of the inflatable boat.

Learning Outcomes
  1. An understanding of the value of the IRB as a surf rescue vehicle.
  2. An appreciation of effective IRB helmsmanship and crewing.
  3. Seeing how a simple, practical method of lifesaving can become a world-wide practice through international co-operation.

Wake-Walker E., Break Through – how the Inflatable Rescue Boat conquered the surf, Granta Editions, Cambridge, 2007