The lifesaving charity begins the rollout of its lifeguard service this weekend on around 50 beaches in the UK and Channel Islands. But with the school holidays coinciding with a relaxation in lockdown travel and socialising rules in many areas, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has urged the public to take care if they visit the coast as, despite some recent warm weather, sea temperatures remain at their coldest this time of year.
RNLI Water Safety Manager Sam Johnson said: ‘Although the roll-out of our lifeguard service starts this weekend, they can’t be everywhere, so people need to think about their own safety and what they would do in an emergency.
‘Coastal areas provide a great opportunity to enjoy fresh air and open space but it is important to remember it can be an unpredictable and dangerous environment, particularly during spring and early summer when air temperatures may be warm but water temperatures remain dangerously cold, increasing the risk of cold water shock.
‘We are reminding anyone planning to enter the water to take extra care. Basic precautions can greatly reduce the risk of getting into difficulty, whatever your activity, and also improve your chance of being found quickly.
‘For activities like kayaking and stand up paddle boarding we’d recommend you carry a means of calling for help, such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch, and ensure you are wearing the right kit for the water temperature.
‘A wetsuit will keep you warm and help you float in an emergency although wearing an appropriate buoyancy aid or lifejacket is still vital. For open water swimmers and dippers, please also remember to acclimatise slowly and be visible with a brightly coloured hat.’
Not everyone who finds themselves in trouble in the water, expected to be there though.
‘In a normal year, around 150 people lose their lives at the coast and we know that more than half of those never intended to be in the water,’ said Sam Johnson.
‘If you find yourself in trouble in cold water, your natural reaction can be to panic and thrash around, which increases the chances of breathing in water and drowning.
‘The best thing to do in this situation is to float on your back and wait for the effects of cold water shock to pass, keeping your airway clear until you can control your breathing. You can then plan your next move to reach safety.
‘If you or someone else is in trouble, always call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.’
The RNLI’s 238 lifeboat stations have remained operational throughout the pandemic and will continue to launch around the clock where there is risk to life.
Sam Johnson added: ‘We would encourage everyone to follow the latest government guidelines on what you are able to do and where, to avoid putting unnecessary strain on frontline services.
‘We want people to enjoy the coastline but urge everyone to respect the water and take extra care when visiting the coast.’
The RNLI’s key safety advice is:
In an emergency call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard
You can find your nearest lifeguarded beach by visiting the RNLI website.