Following the recent easing of nationwide lockdown restrictions in England and with children still off school, many more people are expected to visit the coast to exercise and take part in water-based activities, although Government advice in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently remains more limited.
Last year 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.
Despite the ongoing challenges posed by coronavirus and social distancing, the RNLI still hopes to provide a lifeguard service on around 30% of the beaches the charity usually covers in time for the traditional peak summer season.
But at present, there are no RNLI lifeguards on UK beaches.
Whilst RNLI lifeboat crews and HM Coastguard are still on call ready to respond to emergencies, the message is clear; we need the public to be aware of dangers, take responsibility for themselves and their loved ones and remember that, in an emergency, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
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.
“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.”
Following key safety advice will keep people safe and also help to reduce the demands placed on RNLI lifeboat crews, HM Coastguard and other emergency services.
Last week’s tragedy in Holland, resulting in the deaths of five experienced surfers has highlighted again the perils of the sea, even for those who know what they are doing.
That’s why parents are now being urged to take charge and be ‘beach smart’ if they visit the coast to ensure they and their families have the safest summer possible, whether lifeguards are patrolling their beach or not.
Claire Hughes, director of HM Coastguard said: “In England, now more than ever, people need to respect the sea and the coast.
“Whether you’re local or not, whatever your ability or experience in your chosen sport or leisure activity, the sea can still catch you out and be unmerciful when it does.
“So please don’t use inflatables on the beach, check weather forecasts, tide times and local signage and don’t let your family swim alone.
“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.
“If you get into trouble call 999 and ask for the Coastguard and we will come to your aid.
“But coronavirus hasn’t gone away and we all need to follow the rules. Remember your choices might put people, including yourself and frontline responders, at risk. Take extra care in these extraordinary times.’
This summer with beach lifeguard patrols significantly reduced, 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 this safety advice:
• 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