[In support of the RNLI and HM Coastguard’s #BeBeachSafe campaign we’re sharing a series of simple guides geared towards surfers on how to keep yourself and others safe in rippy lineups. View the whole series here.]
The first port of call if you see someone in a rip is always to alert the lifeguards, either by raising an arm and waving to them, or catching a wave into them. If there aren’t any around and you feel confident enough to approach and give advice then do so, but always remember to consider your own safety as well.
The best time to assist a surfer or swimmer in a rip is before they’re in any real danger. If you see someone drifting out to sea and they look tired, or like they’re struggling to paddle, don’t wait, paddle over and ask them if they’re alright. If they need help, calmly advise them which way to paddle or swim. If there are breaking waves nearby, it might just be a case of escorting them into the path of an oncoming wave and telling them to point towards the beach and hold on to their board if they have one, or if they’ve already drifted a way out the back, paddle with them parallel to the shore, towards wherever waves are breaking, and then in with them to the beach.
If you happen upon someone who is in more serious trouble and panicking, it’s best to keep a bit of distance when you approach. Drowning people are dangerous, and sadly many people have lost their lives attempting to help save others, so the RNLI do not recommend that you ever attempt a rescue. If the person has a board, advise them firmly to keep calm and hold onto it. If not, tell them to float while you give them instructions on how to get out of the rip.
If you don’t have lifeguard training, the best thing to do is try and draw the attention of others to the situation; lifeguards first and foremost, but also other surfers and if you’re near a headland, people on the shore who can call the Coastguard (on 999 or 112) if necessary. If it’s a busy day, the chances are there will be someone with useful experience around.
If you’d like to be better equipped in situations such as this, there are lots of videos online, including a good series by Andy Parkinson and the Langland Bay Lifeguard Club that shows you how you can assist in a crisis.
There’s also a group called ‘Surfers Helping Surfers’ which aims to spread knowledge, share techniques and promote understanding to better equip surfers to help each other. Find out more about the organisation and their workshops here.
For comprehensive life-saving training, we recommend courses organised by SurfLifeSaving GB. Click here to find one near you.
Cover photo: @lugarts