The surf-lifesaving reel consists of a large reel on which a rope, called a surf-line, is wound. When swimmers get into difficulty the surf-line is attached to a lifesaver wearing a special belt who, as the rope on the reel is played out, swims to their aid. The lifesaver and the person rescued are pulled to safety by rewinding the surf-lifesaving reel.

The surf-lifesaving reel was based on a model made by the Australian Lyster Ormsby, first captain of the Bondi Surf Bather's Lifesaving Club. The first reel was built in 1906 by G.H. Olding, who also claimed to be its inventor. The first person in the world to be rescued by a lifesaving reel was a boy who floundered at Bondi Beach in January 1907. He gave his name as Charlie Smith, and was later to become the aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

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