Words by Bethany Allen
The beach lifeguard season is over but the RNLI is still actively keeping people safe in and around the water this winter.
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea, its volunteers providing a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. As well as more than 240 beach lifeguard units, the charity operates over 238 lifeboat stations – 14 around Cornwall – all of which are manned by highly trained volunteers ready to drop everything and respond, to help people in trouble. It’s independent from the Coastguard and government, and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service.
During the summer, 59 of Cornwall’s beaches are lifeguarded. When the season comes to an end in September, there are only a handful of beaches that continue to be overseen until 28th October, when school half term ends. The season then starts again at Easter on a number of beaches. That said, through the winter the RNLI can always be relied upon, should the need arise, to provide aid via lifeboats. “Where there are no flags, there is no lifeguard service,” explains RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor for south east Cornwall, Charlie Gillett. He advises: “When beaches aren’t lifeguarded, make sure to take note of the safety signage at the entrance to the beach, go with a friend or tell someone on the shore where you’re headed. At the same time always be aware of the conditions and your own capabilities in the water. Those who enjoy walking and exploring the coastline should also check the local tide times and weather forecast.”
RNLI volunteers provide a 24-hour rescue service
From my own experience as a surfer and beach goer in Cornwall, it’s safe to say that winter is the most dangerous time of year to be in or near the sea. The swell is at its most powerful and storms bring intense winds that batter the county, meaning that if you’re caught out in dangerous conditions by the coast – whether you’re in the sea or walking the coast path – it’s important to be careful.
One evening this summer, after the lifeguards had finished their patrols, my friend got caught in a rip at Porthtowan. Within minutes she was dragged out of her depth towards Chapel Porth and couldn’t swim back in. Luckily she was with another person who got out and called the Coastguard. Within 20 minutes the lifeboat arrived and rescued her, and she was returned to shore where the Coastguard team were ready and waiting to treat her. This was the correct response. If you or someone you know is struggling in the water, resist the urge to help them yourself unless you’re a qualified lifeguard, instead call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard. This is part of the RNLI’s ‘Respect the Water’ campaign, through which the charity advises that you do not enter the water if you see someone in distress but call for help instead. Although the beaches aren’t actively lifeguarded through the winter, it’s incredibly comforting to know that the RNLI and Coastguard are just minutes from your aid in an emergency, and with them on hand, it’s simply not worth putting yourself in danger when they have the experience and resources to help.
Seeing my friend rescued by the RNLI lifeboat made me realise just how important the RNLI service is and how lucky we are to have it. It’s crucial for us to support them in any way we can, even if that simply involves following their advice when it comes to ocean safety.