Muddy Meets: Maisie and Issey, RNLI Beach Lifeguards
The beaches in Cornwall are open again for business so Muddy caught up with local beach lifeguards Maisie and Issey, chatting beach safety, what they wear and their fav Cornish beaches.
Must be lovely spending your time based in such a beautiful office! Where’s work for you?
We work in the Padstow area – that’s eight beaches spanning from Porthcothan Bay to Trebarwith Strand. We have both worked on all the beaches in the area at some point each of which provides its own set of unique challenges and risks.
Talk me through your day
Issey: We get to the beach at 9:45am to start setting up. Every day the conditions vary so we have to analyse the risks present and adapt where the flags and signs go accordingly. If it’s a sunny day with big swell you know it’s going to be busy! (Big waves mean rip currents will be stronger).
Maisie: Low tides can mean lots of weaver fish stings (many cups of tea and pot noodle lunches have had to be sacrificed to provide the hot water needed to treat the sting). Luckily, our area has a very close-knit team which makes the busy days a lot easier to handle.
Any particular things you’re looking out for
Even on days where the water is calm, there’s lots of potential dangers. Offshore winds (where the wind blows from the beach to the sea) is particularly problematic for inflatables, so from unicorns to giant prawns, we think they are better off left in the pool.
We also look out for cold water shock (despite appearing inviting, no matter how warm it is on the land the sea can still be cold).
Beach lifeguards bring to mind, shall we say, a certain type of outfit. What do you really wear?
Issey: The new Helly Hanson kit the RNLI has given is us awesome. On hot days I will wear a short sleeved t-shirt, shorts and a wide brimmed hat.
Maisie: On cold rainy days (where the Cornish micro-climate lets us down) we wear warm coats, fleeces, waterproof tracksuit bottoms and a beanie hat to keep us toasty. It’s amazing how many stubborn water users love the beach on a rainy day!
Issey: We do have swimwear too – winter and summer wetsuits as well as bikinis and swimsuits (that we wear under our uniform!).
I heard beach lifeguards can swim pretty fast – what is the training like?
Maisie: Every season we go over things such as how to properly operate vehicles on the beach plus an intensive first aid course which involves us acting out various scenarios by getting into makeup with fake blood and broken bones (this is my favourite part of training).
Issey: My favourite part of training is manning the inshore rescue boats especially when we go out in surf! We also continue training throughout the summer by running through first aid and rescue scenarios on quiet days as well as fitness training by swimming and going out in surf on the rescue board.
Did you have to pass a test to qualify?
We had to complete a lifeguard qualification (national vocational beach lifeguard qualification or equivalent) which involves a theory test and a practical assessment.
Also every year we have to do a timed 400m pool swim (in under 7mins and 30s), a 25m pool swim underwater and a 25m surface swim (in under 50s) plus a 200m beach run (in under 40s).
How has the current Covid-19 situation changed things?
The start to this lifeguarding season has been a bit rocky because of lockdown so a group of our lifeguards decided to group together to help prevent any more deaths in our area (after the death at Treyarnon on bank holiday Monday) by volunteering to watch the beaches.
We’re got a lot more kit too – we’ve got to wear two pairs of gloves, a mask, googles, a face shield and an apron when carrying out first aid and in the hut we have to wear facemasks.
Lifeguards have such a high amount of contact with the members of public it could be very easy for us to contract coronavirus so I hope that this summer people will keep their distance. At the beach it may seem like the worries of the pandemic are far behind us but I know that lifeguards would greatly appreciate if people on the beaches listen to us and take care when entering the water.
Any downsides to being a lifeguard?
Maisie: We carry a lot of responsibility and if something does go wrong we are trusted to be the people to deal with that. However, we are fully prepared for most scenarios thanks to our thorough training and we have an extremely capable team of people to back us up.
Issey: There’s also minor annoyances, for example dogs peeing on our equipment which we then have to move! There are also a few people who don’t listen to our advice/ get annoyed when we talk to them and this can be disheartening as we are only trying to keep the public safe.
Dare I ask, what’s your most memorable rescue?
Maisie: I was volunteering at Porthcothan (when there were no lifeguards in lockdown) – it was a flat day but a strong offshore wind was blowing. We spotted an inexperienced stand up paddle boarder who had fallen in, and was drifting out to sea wearing only a bikini. She had cold water shock – just the situation we hope to avoid by advising inexperienced people to stay out of the water when there aren’t any lifeguards.
Issey: I was off-duty when we saw two kids with bodyboards panicking and struggling to get back to shore – they had ignored the no swimming sign and entered the water in the rip current. The parents were completely unaware.
Wow…. Any top tips for beach safety then – particularly with kids?
Maisie: Teach your kid some beach safety lessons (like how to spot a rip, to should never go in the sea alone and to always swim between the red and yellow flags at a lifeguarded beach). It is important to respect the ocean as it is not a swimming pool and has many hidden dangers.
Issey: Keep your kids within arms length when you are in the sea. Most of the rescues I have done have been kids drifting away from their parents in the surf/ kids that enter the sea unsupervised.
If in doubt, stay out, as we say. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger. Ask the lifeguards for advice, we aren’t as scary as we look!
You grew up locally, didn’t you. What are your favourite local beaches?
Issey: We grew up in Padstow which is just a five minute drive from the beach and were members of Harlyn Surf Lifesaving Club (we joined as nippers – young kids- and now coach groups of nippers ourselves).
All the beaches near where we live are amazing so it’s hard to pick one -when there is surf Watergate and Harlyn are good, but when it’s flat the window cave and natural pool at Treyarnon is stunning.
Maisie: If I had to pick a favourite it would be Porthcothan bay as it has so many small caves and inlets to explore when its flat, it also tends to be relatively peaceful on hot summers days.
See our roundup of the RNLI top tips for beach safety here.