Much as we are thankful for what these chaps do, it would be much more preferable not to see them on your holiday....
Read on to ensure you don't!
OF COURSE you want to spend some time by the water on holiday, but are you aware of how to keep safe? It’s a lot easier to get into trouble in the water than you might think: conditions can change quickly and if you’re not prepared, you can easily get caught out.
Around 190 people lose their lives at the UK and Irish coasts each year, and over half never even planned to enter the water. Current drowning figures show a clear gender divide, with men accounting for the vast majority of those who die.
We'll start off by explaining how to CALL FOR HELP if you should need it:- but please do take the time to read on through the rest of this blog, as it could "help" you NOT to have to call for help!
No matter if you’re walking along the coast, having a quick paddle or swim, out on your body-board or kayak, or sailing further out to sea, having the means to call for help in an emergency can be the difference between life and death. In most cases, a mobile phone can be enough to call for help.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation or spot someone else in trouble, you should call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
If you are inland and see someone in difficulty on the water, be it on a river or a lake, you should ask for the police when you call for help.
Smart phones can provide a location, but emergency calls should be made by voice (call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard). Text messages and map locations are often no use to the Coastguard.
Even if your phone shows no service, try calling 999 or 112 anyway, as in an emergency your phone will be able to use another phone network. Please note that with some devices, repeatedly pressing the power button can activate an emergency call with your location.
When you’re heading to a beach: respect the water and visit a lifeguarded beach. On a lifeguarded beach there are trained professionals to help keep you safe, they’ll be on hand if something goes wrong, in or out of the water.
Be aware of the dangers.
- Know your limits and don't take risks. Do the conditions exceed your ability? Swimming in the sea is very different to swimming in a pool.
- Go with others and look out for each other.
- Make sure your phone is charged, so you can call for help if you come across anyone who needs it. Make sure you have someone watching from the beach to provide "shore cover." Make sure they have a way to call for help.
Every Summer, the RNLI and Swim England hold Swim Safe sessions for 7-14 year olds at selected beaches and lakes. These sessions are free and teach children vital skills to stay safe in and around open water, click the link above for more details.
KNOW YOUR FLAGS!
When you arrive at the beach, the first thing you might see is a sign giving you all the information about the beach you’re visiting. This includes important safety info on the hazards specific to the area.
Red and white prohibition sign
Do not enter the water at any time. Swimming and other water-related activities are not permitted.
Red and yellow beach flag
Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.
Black and white chequered beach flag
For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kitesurfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard here.
Red beach flag
Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.
Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.
Understand the Sea!
Before you get in the sea, it’s important to consider your personal fitness! The sea can be a very demanding environment. Be aware that sea swimming can be much more challenging than the pool, so before you even think about starting a watersport: it’s worth jumping in between the red and yellow beach flags and familiarising yourself with the conditions first.
RIP-TIDES - what are they?
Photo courtesy of Jason Howlett
Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can quickly take you from the shallows out of your depth. In the UK, the majority of RNLI Lifeguard incidents involve rip currents. They tend to flow at 1–2mph but can reach 4–5mph, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer! Rips are especially powerful in larger surf, but never underestimate the power of any water - they can also be found around river mouths, estuaries and man-made structures like piers and groynes.
Rip currents can be difficult to spot, but are sometimes identified by a channel of churning, choppy water on the sea's surface. Even the most experienced beach-goers can be caught out by rips, so don’t be afraid to ask lifeguards for advice.
If you do find yourself caught in a rip:
- Don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted.
- If you can stand, wade don’t swim.
- If you can, wade or swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore.
- Always raise your hand and shout for help.
If you see anyone else in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
Low and High Tides
A beach can seem like a vast playground but the tide can come in surprisingly quickly, getting cut off by the tide contributes to a significant number of RNLI rescues every year.
Tide times and heights vary throughout the month and can easily catch you out if you haven’t checked them! Tides have a reputation for being unpredictable, but really they follow a more reliable timetable than most trains! There are two different types: spring and neap. Spring tides have greater depth range between high and low water, so at high tide the water comes in further up the beach. Neap tides have less variation, so at high tide the water won't come in as far.
You can find out more information about tides in your area through tide tables, apps, weather news or local websites. You can also get local tidal information from the Harbour Master, tourist information centre and some seaside retail outlets, or you can find tide tables and surf reports for the UK and Ireland by clicking: magicseaweed.com.
Waves: fun, right?
Powerful breaking waves have the potential to bring out the big kid in all of us. They are one of the most exciting and impressive features of our UK and Irish coastlines and they are the primary force shaping coastal change.
Waves are formed by friction, when the wind blows across the surface of the sea, causing a swell as water particles rotate and move forwards.
The movement of a wave up the beach is known as the swash, its movement down the beach is known as the backwash. Depending on which is stronger, waves can be either constructive or destructive. The size and power of a wave is influenced by three main factors:
- how strong the wind is
- how long it has been blowing
- how far the wave has travelled (known as the fetch)
How steeply a beach slopes or shelves and the layout of the sea bed near the beach will also affect the size and type of wave.
Wave dodging is for sunny, calm days and gentle waves! It may seem fun to wait for a wave to sweep up the beach or along a harbour wall, but only 15cm of water can knock you off your feet. Bear this in mind when the weather is stormy or conditions are rough! Remember that the wave in the middle of a set is often bigger and can reach further up the beach or along the promenade.
Blow-up toys and airbeds are designed for pools, not the sea where they can easily be swept out.
If you do use them at the beach, then:
- Ensure children are closely supervised
- Keep near the shore
- Only use between the red and yellow beach flags
- Follow the lifeguard’s advice
- Do not take inflatables out in big waves
- Never use them when the orange windsock is flying, as this indicates offshore winds which will blow inflatables further out to sea
- If you do get into difficulty, then stay with your inflatable as it will keep you above the water.
Fun for all the family, but every year our lifeguards rescue thousands of people who get caught out. The most important advice is to wear a leash and always stay with your board as it will keep you above the water, even if you feel you are drifting out to sea. Your board will keep you afloat and make you much easier to spot if lifeguards need to rescue you
The effect on the body of entering water 15°C and below is often underestimated. This shock can be the precursor to drowning.
Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement, so the risk is significant most of the year. Average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C. Rivers such as the Thames are colder - even in the summer.
Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow, heart rate is also increased. As a result the heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.
The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into the lungs.
This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of sea water to enter the lungs for a fully grown man to start drowning. You could die if you don't get medical care immediately.
If you enter the water unexpectedly:
- Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute, so don’t try to swim straight away.
- Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.
- Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.
Please try to support the local RNLI wherever you are staying on holiday this year:
Do remember that every member of the RNLI lifeboat crews are VOLUNTEERS that provide a 24-hour rescue service in the UK and Ireland and their RNLI crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,200 lives since 1824. That could be YOU or YOUR FAMILY.
Summer is (obviously) their busiest time and figures show they will help more than 23,000 people just over the summer-season. Think about forgoing one night in the clubhouse on your holiday and donating what you would have spent here. Or maybe treat yourself to a little gift and help support them along the way at their on-line shop. (Have to add ole AVMR regularly buys from there as a way of supporting what these chaps do for us.)
STAY SAFE on your holiday this year.