People and Places
Water safety for all abilities By Liz Rogers

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There’s been a great little program running at the Mount Martha Life Saving Club over summer that’s worthy of a mention. The Starfish Nippers, which was created by the Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club and is now in operation at many lifesaving clubs across Victoria, is a modified Nippers program for children and young adults with special needs. This means that kids with autism and Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome, ADHD, and physical and intellectual disabilities get a chance to hit the beach, learn new skills and have a lot of fun with family and friends while doing so.

Sarah Hilli, the administrator of the Mount Martha program, explains. “I really had no idea I would be doing this. I just went along to a Lifesaving Victoria conference and saw a video of what the Starfish Nippers program looked like and thought it was cool. I took the idea back to the Mount Martha Life Saving Club committee and their response was it was a ‘no-brainer’. We started three years ago and it is all run by volunteers. Each participant has a trainer and the program is run concurrently with the mainstream Nippers program, which means the whole family can be together.”

Sarah runs the program with Julie Marshall, who in Sarah’s words “has such a lovely nature with the Nippers and is hands-on on the day”. They both have Bronze Medallions, the international benchmark for lifesavers. The program runs from 6-7pm on Fridays from late November until March and the response has been amazing. Beginning with five Nippers ranging in age from eight to 14, there are now eight participants with the oldest being 17. Lifesaving activities include board skills, beach flags, swimming, water familiarisation, beach running, games such as volleyball, and beach, water and surf safety. 

Sarah continues: “Parents are required to have a Working With Children Check and to stay on the beach while the program is running. There’s a dinner and a movie upstairs at the club afterwards too. We also attended the inaugural Starfish Nippers carnival at Hampton Life Saving Club. All you need to do is become a member of the Mount Martha Life Saving Club and the first-year membership for Starfish Nippers is free. Membership applications happen in September, and check our website for open day dates, usually held in September.”

If you have a child with a disability who loves the water, this could be the program for you. Jo Taylor, a parent of one of the participants, says: “Having just finished our third season, I have seen huge advances in confidence and ability in not only my child, but among all of the participants. I hope the program continues to expand around the state, allowing children of all abilities to be part of a local lifesaving club.” 

Go to, email to find out more or follow them on Facebook @StarfishNippers.

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