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RNLI lifeguards patrolling at a social distance. Photograph @triggerleephotography

Since lockdown restrictions were eased last month, the RNLI has worked hard to roll out lifeguard patrols on 22 beaches in the South West.

Now these beaches are operational and new ways of working and equipment have been properly put to the test, the RNLI is accelerating its service roll-out and increasing the number of beaches which will have a lifeguard service.

The charity is hoping to have lifeguards on around 170 beaches in the UK by early July — that’s 70% of the beaches it would patrol in a normal summer.

RNLI chief executive, Mark Dowie, said: “We are now confident we can provide a more comprehensive lifeguard service this summer, safely, despite the continuing challenges created by the pandemic. The first few weeks having lifeguards back on beaches has helped us properly test the new ways of operating and reassured everyone that we can accelerate and expand our plans.

“Our original plan to lifeguard 70 beaches this summer was a conservative one, made when many things were still unknown. Now, though, we have a better idea of the journey out of lockdown for all parts of the UK, understand the new regulations with which we must comply as an employer and service provider, and, most importantly, feel we can properly manage the risks associated with coronavirus. So we are revising our plans and adding to the number of beaches we can lifeguard this summer.”

Guy Botterill, area lifesaving manager in west Cornwall, added: “As we start to roll out a more comprehensive RNLI lifeguard service across west Cornwall, I want to acknowledge the lifesaving activities and actions of the many volunteer surf lifesaving clubs, surf schools, community groups, lifeboat crews, and individuals who undoubtedly saved lives around our coastline.

RNLI lifeguards PPE
RNLI lifeguards in personal protective equipment (PPE). Photograph: RNLI/Leon Bennett

“Whatever role you played in this, you have been a real inspiration to us all — thank you. As an RNLI team, we very much look forward to working with you to deliver our lifeguard service and water safety plans for west Cornwall.”

There are already 22 beaches with a lifeguard service in the South West. In Cornwall, there are currently lifeguards on Constantine, Fistral, Gwithian, Hayle Towans, Mawgan Porth, Perranporth, Poldhu, Porthmeor, Porthtowan, Polzeath, Praa Sands, Sennen, Summerleaze, Watergate Bay, and Widemouth.

As of this Saturday (20th June), lifeguard patrols will start at the following beaches in Devon and Cornwall: Exmouth, Bantham, Sedgewell Cove, Tregonhawke, Sharrow, Portreath, Chapel Porth, Holywell Bay, Treyarnon, Harlyn, Trebarwith, and Crooklets. This will bring the total number of beaches with lifeguards across the South West to 34.

The RNLI is continuing to talk to its 55 partner local authorities and beach owners about which additional beaches might be lifeguarded this summer, seeking to align with the proposed early July lifting of restrictions on the tourism and hospitality industries. The RNLI will announce this information as soon as possible.

New measures to deal with the Coronavirus mean the RNLI lifeguard service will look a little different this year. Lifeguards will wear PPE like ambulance crews in some situations. New protocols for all first responders mean the lifeguards may not deal with some minor first aid cases but will support people to treat themselves.

They will also try to keep socially distant from beachgoers, and may need to adopt different patrol methods at times, such as not using the red and yellow flags and asking people to keep apart but close to shore, to help keep people safe while maintaining social distancing.

Key points to remember

The charity is also continuing to urge anyone planning to visit the coast to make sure they keep themselves and their families safe by following beach safety advice. Anyone planning a visit to the coast should remember to:

  • Have a plan — check the weather forecast and tide times, and read local hazard signage
  • Keep a close eye on your family, on the beach and in the water
  • Don’t allow your family to swim alone
  • Don’t use inflatables
  • If you fall into the water unexpedtedly, float to live! Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float!
  • In an emergency, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard