No beach is the same and it’s sometimes a bit daunting going swimming, surfing or bodyboarding – or even just relaxing – on a beach you have never been to before. We’ve teamed up with JustSurf to bring you our top 10 tips you should always know when it comes to sea safety…
All beaches patrolled by the RNLI will always have designated surfing and bodyboarding/swimming zones, visible by the black and white flags, and red and yellow flags respectively.
These zones are for beginners and always have a lifeguard situated on the beach in front of these zones, so if you are ever in trouble or see someone in trouble, help is not far away. The flagged zones have been set out in an area which the lifeguards deem the safest part of the beach.
(Note: if you are a competent swimmer/bodyboarder/surfer you don’t have to be in these zones. But be aware, that other areas of the beach might not be regularly patrolled by the RNLI).
EVERYONE in the water should know the international symbol for help when you’re out at sea, which could save your life or someone else. You will naturally want to wave frantically and shout to get help, however, this is commonly misinterpreted as waving at a friend or splashing around, and the sound of crashing waves will drown out your shouting. What you should do to signal for help is make a CLENCHED FIST STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR. This international symbol will instantly tell the RNLI and any other competent surfers/swimmers/bodyboarders that you or someone else nearby needs help straight away.
Should you find yourself in a tricky situation in the water, remember the RLNI’s, Float to Live:
(Image credit: RNLI.org)
It’s great knowing the signal for help, but what do you do if you see someone signalling for help but are unable/untrained to do a rescue attempt? Rescuing a panicked person at sea is very dangerous mainly due to the conditions and the unpredictability of the rescue who will do anything to stay afloat.
Additionally, there are all kinds of situations which require quick and decisive action, so it’s critical to get the attention of your local lifeguard. Lifeguards are always found on the beach in front of the flagged zones and typically have a base/lookout hut somewhere on the beach.
A rip current is a deep channel of water which can draw you out to sea. These can occur in permanent locations (e.g. where a cliff and the sea meet or other solid topography) and in constantly moving locations (e.g. between sandbanks which move due to the tide).
If you are ever caught in a rip current never try to fight it and swim back to shore. The current will cause you to gain little distance, causing further panic and exhaustion. People also typically think that swimming to the side is the solution, however, rip currents have been known to meander through the beach so you may be inadvertently swimming across but against the current at the same time.
What the RNLI recommend is to stay calm and simply let the rip current take you out. By the time you get out to deeper water, the current would have dissipated and then you can swim to the sides and swim in or signal for help and await rescue.
However, a general rule to follow is if you are not a strong swimmer don’t go out of your depth. Additionally, lifeguards are trained to spot rip currents and will never put the flagged zones in a dangerous position.
(Image credit: kingsurf.co.uk)
The last thing you want is to trek to the seafront, towel and summer read in hand and find out that there is no beach to sit on! Some sections of the coastline are affected by the changing tides more than others, so make sure to plan ahead and check when the high and low tides are – these websites are helpful:
Knowing the tide tides will also ensure that you’re never caught short by a high tide; we’ve heard of countless stories of people exploring the nooks and crannies of the shoreline in low tide, but only to get caught out and trapped as the tide came in.
Your bodyboard/surfboard/paddleboard is your most important piece of safety equipment. It’s your flotation device when your out there battling the waves. For example, time and time again people pick up a cheap throwaway bodyboard from a supermarket made from a flimsy piece of foam. It’s great if you’re in the shallows and having lots of fun, but getting out of your depth and ending up out at sea will happen when you least expect it.
That’s why you need something you can float well with and most importantly paddle effectively with. Cheap equipment has poor buoyancy, extra drag in the water and means you can’t swim well enough to get out of a situation progressively getting worse.
All equipment should have a strong leash too, as all of a sudden after a large wipeout you can find yourself panicked with no flotation at all. Buy good equipment or rent from experts who will know exactly what you need to stay safe while enjoying the waves.
(Image credit: Ocean Recovery Project / keepbritaintidy.org)
When it comes to surfing, the statistically most dangerous thing is your board. While being your primary piece of safety equipment, your board causes the most injuries. When you inevitably fall off a wave your board could be flying around anywhere with some speed. This is why it’s crucial to cover your head protecting you from sharp board fins or potentially being knocked out. Additionally, you have other people boards fly around in the mix, so try to find a nice space that isn’t too crowded to catch some waves.
Hard boards are faster and are typically what you think about when you picture a surfer. However, everyone has started on a “foamy” and progressed to hardboards. You should always learn the basics first on a foamy because when you fall off (you will a lot at the start) and forget to cover your head, it’s going to be a lot more forgiving when it hits you. Additionally, there’s nothing more dangerous than a beginner on a pointy hardboard, who can’t turn out the way of people in the water.
(Image credit: justsurf.co.uk)
Hours of exposure to the elements can quickly catch up with you. You should always come prepared to the beach, especially when entering the water. Hot weather and exercise can quickly dehydrate you so always down a pint of water when going for a surf or better, bring some with you. Even on cloudy days, you should apply water-resistant sunscreen when going into the sea. The sun will bounce off the water, giving you double exposure to the sun and potentially resulting in burns. Burns will double your likelihood of getting skin cancer, so it’s best to always come prepared.
When going into the water, a general rule is can you swim a length of a 25m pool. If you can’t, you probably shouldn’t be in the water. Additionally, you should always consult your doctor before taking part in sea activities.
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