RNLI lifeguards have hung up their wetsuits after finishing their safety patrols on all beaches across the south west for 2020. But with unpredictable weather conditions, the charity is reminding people using the coast over the winter to take extra care and to heed safety advice.

A lifeguard powering out to sea. Photograph: Sam Chamberlain/RNLI

Tom Mansell, the RNLI’s regional lifesaving lead, said: “It has been an extraordinary season in so many ways. Our lifeguards have continuously gone the extra mile, day in and day out, to keep people safe on the region’s beaches.

“While some years they may have had respite from the crowds on a rainy day, the sheer volume of people in the West Country and the need to pre-book other attractions has meant people have flocked to the beaches day after day from May all the way through to this October half-term.

“During one week alone in August, lifeguards saved 15 lives on our beaches. I am extremely proud of the resilience and professionalism these teams have shown. They have proved to be integral to our beach communities, and while our figures show the rescues and lives saved, we know the conversations and advice they have given while on duty will have helped save many, many more lives this summer.”

Meanwhile, the charity has released photographs taken by RNLI lifeguard Sam Chamberlain which capture lifeguarding in 2020. Sam, who patrolled at Perranporth, said: “I hadn’t really picked up a camera since I studied media at college around 12 years ago, but living in this new world of lifeguarding seemed so surreal that I thought I needed to capture some moments from the season, so I kept the camera close.

“A pandemic is something that none of us has experienced before, and having to keep your distance and wear masks around people that you’ve known and worked with for years felt very strange.

“This summer has by far been the busiest that I have experienced during my ten seasons as a lifeguard. The packed beaches, the strength of the rip currents, and making sure the service was covid secure were all big challenges, but despite this we still had an amazing season, and the lifeguards provided an excellent service for their community.”

Winter advice from the RNLI

Although the lifeguards have packed up until spring, RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews continue to be on call 365 days a year, ready to respond to emergencies when their pager goes off. But to avoid putting yourself and our volunteers at risk, heed the following safety advice this winter.

  • Check tides, weather, and sea conditions, and be realistic about your level of ability. Winter is not the time to push your limits.
  • Avoid going in the water alone. If you are planning to go for a kayak, surf, or swim, always go with someone, have someone on the shore, or at least let somebody know where you will be and what time you expect to be back.
  • If you are an inexperienced water user, avoid isolated beaches that have a reduced footfall so that if you do get into difficulty, there is a chance someone will see you and raise the alarm.
  • Take note of the signage at the entrance to the beach which will indicate any localised hazards. If in doubt, ask a local for advice.
  • Always wear appropriate equipment. This includes a winter wetsuit, wetsuit hood, boots, and gloves — the colder you get, the weaker your body will become, increasing your risk of getting into difficulty. We’d also suggest having warm clothing, a hot drink, and a woolly hat for afterwards.
  • If you find yourself in trouble, never abandon your craft. It will keep you afloat until help arrives.
  • If you see somebody in difficulty, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. Stay on scene until they arrive, as this will aid the rescue, but please do not attempt to rescue them yourself.