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Get beach smart: Top tips for beach safety

With the recent relaxation of lockdown the beach is back as a place to exercise but with no lifeguards present, make sure you don't end up in distress with our handy round-up of the RNLI's safety tips.

The glorious weather, the kids still off school for at least another week and the welcome news we can all drive a little to exercise mean that we are all heading to our local beaches, obvs.

At the risk of sounding like your mother (sorry, not sorry), don’t get too complacent. Aside from all the social distancing measures, make sure you’ve spared a moments thought for your beach safety.

In 2019, the RNLI lifeguards aided more than 29,000 people on UK beaches in more than 17,000 incidents, saving a total of 154 lives.

They also helped to reunite nearly 1,800 lost children and teenagers with their families and aided 346 people in incidents involving inflatables.

Last weekend alone, Coastguard rescue teams were called out 194 times in the UK to incidents including inflatables drifting offshore, crashed jet skis, people injured while out walking or cycling along the coast, paddleboarders, kayakers, windsurfers and kite surfers in difficulty as well as people cut off by the tide.

It was also a very sad weekend in Cornwall as two people died and a third was seriously injured, as well as countless others rescued by their fellow beach-goers.

This summer with beach lifeguard patrols significantly reduced (and at the current time not in action at all) the RNLI and HM Coastguard are advising the public not to use inflatables at all and for everyone, especially parents, planning a visit to a beach or the coast to follow safety advice.

Tips to stay safe at the beach

  • Have a plan – check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage
  • Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water
  • Don’t allow your family to swim alone
  • Don’t use inflatables
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float
  • In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard

Also remember:

  • This is not the time to be trying out new watersports – only go out on boats, surfboards, paddleboards and jetskis if you are experienced and confident
  • Make sure that if you go to the beach at low water that you don’t get cut off by the tide
  • Without the bathing flags up to guide you, if you are entering the water to swim make sure that you’re not in a rip tide or fast-moving tidal stream, as both can easily sweep you out to sea
  • Be aware of weever fish (stings by these small fish are one of the most common incidents RNLI lifeguards have to deal with) – the fin of the fish can cause an extreme painful sting when you stand on them. Avoid it by wearing shoes or dragging your feet in the sand to cause a disturbance to scare the fish away
  • Pack sun hats, sun cream, drinking water and some shade – the breeze is pleasantly cooling but you can still easily get sunstroke
  • A lot of public toilets are not yet open, so plan your trip accordingly

Whilst RNLI lifeboat crews and HM Coastguard are still on call ready to respond to emergencies, the reality is that even if you can call 999 you just can’t be reached as quickly as a beach lifeguard would have been able to.

Gareth Morrison, RNLI Head of Water Safety, said: ‘If the charity’s lifeguards were present on the beaches today, they would be preventing many incidents before they even occurred by directing people to safe swimming areas, highlighting dangers such as rip currents and advising people not to use inflatables. These preventive measures are not currently in place meaning people could find themselves in danger if they are not reading the signs and following the relevant safety advice’.

He added: ‘Our lifeguards are trained to swim 200m within 3 1/2 minutes, and although our volunteer lifeboat crews are fully operational, should they be needed, they won’t be able to reach you in the same time’.

‘It is important that anyone visiting the coast understands that the beach can be a dangerous environment and you must take more responsibility for you and your family this summer. No one ever goes to the coast to be rescued yet RNLI lifeguards rescue 1000’s each year.’

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