2020 marks the 40th anniversary of women's involvement in active surf lifesaving duties.

Surf Life Saving Tasmania is celebrating this important anniversary and the achievements of women over the past 40 years.

To mark the occasion, here is a message from our patron, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Kate Warner AC, Governor of Tasmania. 

The early years

Arguing that women were not strong enough to operate the equipment or swim in heavy surf, the Surf Life Saving Association banned women from qualifying for the bronze medallion and therefore from patrolling.

Despite this many women were actively involved in surf life saving from the beginning, working behind the scenes as valuable members of their clubs, for example, in 1927 sixteen ladies from the Devonport SLSC formed a group of their own. Many stepped in during war time to help with patrols and to support their clubs.   Women’s surf carnivals also flourished, particularly in regional areas, where teams competed for regional and state titles in rescue and resuscitation, sprinting and swimming.  

These women have played such an important part in our history and without whom our development and progress would have been totally different. Some of them have been recognised at club level by being awarded club life membership. Many others have just been the quiet achievers.                

Devonport SLSC 'Ladies Committee' circa 1960's

The 1980's

One of the most significant changes in surf lifesaving history was the eventual acceptance of women as active surf lifesavers.  As early as the 1960's Tasmania's representatives at National meetings lobbied for the allowing women to gain their Bronze Medallion.  With many States still opposing the move, it wasn't until 1980 that women were accepted as active surf lifesavers and began training for the Bronze Medallion. Ten women from the Burnie SLSC were the first to begin training, quickly followed by other clubs around Tasmania.


“This season saw the full integration of females into surf lifesaving.  Careful planning allowed a smooth transition and there was no reported problems.  

Female candidates for the bronze medallion were of a high standard and this was commented on by the examiners on many occasions. 

It was pleasing to see some female teams as well as mixed teams in R & R events. 

The introduction of females has been an unqualified success and has given a real boost to surf life saving in Tasmania.”

List of first female recipients of the the SLS Bronze Medallion, awarded in the 1980-81 Season.

Burnie members training for the award in 1980, the first Tasmanian women to receive the Bronze Medallion

The 1990's

The  1980s and 90's saw women take on leadership roles within Clubs and at State level with the Devonport SLSC setting the pace in the 1987-88 season when they elected Mrs C Elmer as President. 

Headed by Burnie's Jan Clingeleffer, our first female State President, the 1999-2000 State Executive of seven members now included three women. Women also figure prominently in the administration of the Board of Lifesaving and Junior Activities Committee.

Our top female competitors have also demonstrated their ability by succeeding at national level, with Lyn Saint John from Penguin consistently reaching the final of the national female beach sprint during the early 1990s. Charlene Best from Ulverstone showed great courage and skill to win the open female surf board in big surf at the 1992 Australian Championships.

Our female members on various national committees have also made a substantial contribution to surf lifesaving. Lyn Barratt as secretary of the Devonport SLSC and the State Director of Development demonstrated this when she became the 2000 National Volunteer of the Year.

Jan Clingeleffer, Charlene Best, Lyn Barratt and Lyn Saint John, trailblazing women in surf life saving in the 90's

The 2000's and beyond

Today, surf lifesaving in Tasmania benefits from more than 1,120 dedicated female members of all ages across the 14 surf life saving clubs. These women are contributing in all areas of surf lifesaving from active patrolling and support operations, to administration, surf sports, education and everything in between. 

As part of marking 40 years of women in lifesaving, 2020 saw the launch of Surf Life Saving Australia’s Women’s Mentoring Program

Would you like more information about the 2021 Women's Mentoring Program, click here.