UK beach safety campaign aims to avert bank holiday deaths

RNLI and coastguard issue joint warning with lifeguards absent during coronavirus crisis

Police have expressed alarm after day-trippers descended en masse to beaches in Devon and Cornwall, as the lifeboat charity the RNLI and the UK’s coastguard service launched a safety campaign amid fears of a rise in emergencies over the bank holiday weekend.

Roads to many beaches in south-west England were congested and so many people parked illegally at a surfing spot in north Devon that police said traffic wardens were running out of penalty tickets.

One police officer said: “Sadly every double yellow line from Woolacombe to Mortehoe [in north Devon] is covered with cars and vans. All the offences have been recorded and will be processed in due course.”

Because of the coronavirus crisis, there are no RNLI lifeguards on UK or Channel Islands beaches. Usually 1,600 lifeguards keep watch at 248 beaches and the charity is drawing up plans to cover about 70 of its usual spots in high summer if government guidance allows.

Richard Walden, 55, from Woolacombe, said: “It is unbelievable the amount of thoughtless visitors we have had. People sadly haven’t heeded the warnings, especially the ones from the RNLI. There was a big powerful surf out there today but no lifeguards, If anyone gets into trouble, they are on their own.”

The surfing beaches at Polzeath and Newquay in Cornwall were also busy. Alliance Roads Policing, the joint Twitter account for Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police’s road policing team, said: “Come on people, let’s have a shred of consideration for the local communities. We appreciate the restrictions [in England] have been relaxed but let’s use some common sense, please?”

Come on people, let’s have a shred of consideration for the local communities. We appreciate the restrictions have been relaxed but let’s use some common sense, please? 3656 / 3788 E RPT

— Alliance Roads Policing📱+🚗=❌ (@RoadPolAlliance) May 20, 2020

A combination of good weather, treacherous surf, an absence of lifeguards and the easing of travel restrictions in England is causing the RNLI and coastguard deep concern for this week and weekend.

Last weekend alone, coastguard rescue teams were called out 194 times in the UK to incidents including inflatables drifting offshore, crashed jetskis, people injured while out walking or cycling along the coast, paddle-boarders, kayakers, windsurfers and kitesurfers who were in difficulty as well as people cut off by the tide.

The RNLI and UK coastguard service are launching a beach safety campaign on Thursday urging parents to protect their families. There is particular concern about south-west England, where a large swell and a spring tide could make conditions particularly hazardous.

Gareth Morrison, the RNLI head of water safety, said: “If the charity’s lifeguards were present on the beaches today, they would be preventing many incidents before they even occurred by directing people to safe swimming areas, highlighting dangers such as rip currents and advising people not to use inflatables.”

The campaign features the slogan: “Beach lifeguards can’t be everywhere this summer.”

“It is important that anyone visiting the coast understands that the beach can be a dangerous environment and you must take more responsibility for you and your family this summer.”

Claire Hughes, the director of HM Coastguard, said: “We know from sad experience that whether you’re local or not, whatever your ability of experience in your chosen sport or leisure activity, the sea can still catch you out and be unmerciful when it does. Now more than ever, we need people to respect the sea and the coast. If you get into trouble call 999 and ask for the coastguard and we will come to your aid.”

The two organisations are asking people not to use inflatables and to take precautions such as checking the weather forecast and timetables.

The Welsh government has increased the maximum fine for repeated breaches of the coronavirus lockdown rules in Wales from £120 to £1,920.

The increased fines are being introduced ahead of the bank holiday weekend following a request from the four police forces in Wales for increased penalties to help deter people from repeatedly breaching the stay-at-home regulations.

The first minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “As we approach the bank holiday weekend, we continue to ask people to stay at home to protect themselves and their loved ones from coronavirus. If they are exercising – please stay safe and stay local.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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