Concern is growing in the South West ahead of the bank holiday weekend, with fears that solid swell heights, sunny weather and big tides could create a perfect storm of dangers for those visiting the region’s lifeguard-less beaches.
While overnight stays are still banned under current lockdown guidelines, day trips to the seaside are back on and understandably, those within driving distance will be heading west in their droves.
Usually, at this time of year, the RLNI lifeguard services would already have been operating for several weeks, however, the normal rollout was paused at the end of March because of lockdown measures.
The lifeguards, many of whom do not currently qualify for the government furlough scheme, have launched a petition to send to parliament to request the future of the service is safeguarded, however, at the time of writing, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.
“The only info we’ve had is that there’ll be the possibility of two beaches being guarded by the end of the month,” one local source told us. “Then it will increase to 3 and finally to 4, but that’s still not 100% confirmed.”
The official word from the RNLI is that they aim to rollout lifeguards on 30% of the 240 British beaches they usually patrol by the time summer is in full swing.
“Re-establishing this infrastructure and distributing equipment to beaches will take time,” they said in a statement on their website. “We must also make sure that conditions are safe for our lifeguards to provide an effective service – our priority remains to be the safety of our people and the public.”
While concerns have been mounting locally for some time, the outlook for the coming long weekend brings the potential dangers into sharp focus. Friday’s forecast is a particular worry, with the biggest tides of the weekend and a rapidly rising swell throughout the day posing a significant risk to bathers as well as those paddling or walking near the tide line.
Then there’s the issue of rips. Last week we did an Insta Live interview with Cornish surfer and lifeguard Mike Lay, who told us about a day a few summers back when he had to save almost 100 people from the same rip at Gwenvor beach in West Cornwall.
Although Gwenvor is a particularly exposed bay, many lifeguards from up and down the coast will have similar stories. Low water temperatures also mean that if people do get into trouble, their chance of drowning is much higher than in the mid-summer months.
Our message to the surf community is: look out for your fellow water users. If you see someone paddling, bathing or even skirting across a rock in a way that exposes them to risks they might not be aware of, politely advise them where they might be better off doing the activity. And, perhaps most importantly, keep an eye out for anyone who looks like they might be in trouble and be ready to assist, if appropriate, or call 999 and ask for the coastguard.
While the RNLI and the Government attempt to untangle the financial and bureaucratic web that has left beaches unpatrolled, it’s up to those who know the coastline best to make sure people don’t die while enjoying it.
Cover photo: @lugarts