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At the beach

At the beach

When you’re heading to a beach, we urge you to 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. It’s easy to search for lifeguarded beaches with our free RNLI Beach Finder app, to make sure you and your family have a safe and fun trip to the coast.

Alternatively you can use our find my nearest tool, or you can also search on goodbeachguide.co.uk or irishwatersafety.com.

And if you're in Bude, Bournemouth or South Shields this Summer, children aged 714 years can join one of our Swim Safe sessions, in association with the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), to learn how to stay safe in and around open water.

So now you’re ready to hit the beach there are a few important things to remember, whether lifeguards are on duty or not.

Beach Finder app

With the RNLI Beach Finder app, you can easily search the UK for lifeguarded beaches, to make sure you and your family have a safe and fun trip to the coast.

Free and available for Apple and Android devices, the app also gives you real-time weather and tide information. Once you've chosen the right beach, you can enter our sandcastle competition, take a challenging beach quiz and send virtual postcards.

With Beach Finder in your pocket, you've got one less thing to worry about this Summer. You don't need to pack the lifeguard. Finding a safe, lifeguarded beach has never been easier.

Features

  • Search the UK for beaches with lifeguards.

  • Enter our sandcastle competition (March-October).

  • Test your knowledge with a challenging beach quiz.

  • Send virtual postcards from your favourite beaches.

  • Check in at beaches using Twitter or Facebook.

  • View live weather and 5-day forecasts.

  • See tide times.

  • Check water quality with information from the Marine Conservation Society.

  • View lifeguard season dates, patrol times and safety warnings.

Competition closing date - 31 October 2014.

Download the app: 

 

Image of QR code to download the Beach Finder app  Image of App Store to download Beach Finder app Image of Google Play to download the Beach Finder app
 

Signs and flags

Signs

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. The signs generally look like the one on the left and use two different types of warning symbols. Do you know the difference? 

Prohibition sign

Red and white prohibition sign

This is a prohibition sign – don’t do it!

 

Flags

If the beach you’re at is not lifeguarded, please take extra care if you are going into the water. If lifeguards are on patrol, then you’ll need to know your flags:

Red and yellow flag

Red and yellow flags

Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.
 Black and white flag

Black and white chequered flags

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 flag

Red flag

Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.
Orange wind sock

 

 

Orange windsock

Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.

Understand the sea

Understand rips

Rip diagram

Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can quickly take you from the shallows out of your depth.

Rips are especially powerful in larger surf, but are also found around river mouths, estuaries and man-made structures like piers and groynes.

They can catch even the most experienced beachgoers out, so don’t be afraid to ask lifeguards for advice. They will show you how you can avoid rips, but if you do get caught in one:

  • stay calm – don’t panic
  • if you can stand, wade don’t swim
  • keep hold of your board or inflatable to help you float
  • raise your hand and shout for help
  • never try to swim directly against the rip or you’ll get exhausted
  • swim parallel to the beach until free of the rip, then make for shore

if you see anyone else in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.

Understand tides

A beach can seem like a vast playground but the tide can come in surprisingly quickly. As the tide moves up and down the beach, the depth of water changes throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 10 metres.

Many lifeboat and lifeguard rescues are of people getting cut off by the rising water. To prevent this happening to you, get local tidal information from the Harbour Master, the tourist information centre and some seaside retail outlets, or visit bbc.co.uk tide tables or Irish Times tides for the Republic of Ireland. Always keep a look out for the tide’s direction while on the beach.

Understand waves

Waves are great fun, but they can be dangerous. They will have different characteristics depending on the beach and conditions – understanding how they work will keep you safer.

Waves are formed by the wind blowing across the surface of the sea. How steeply a beach slopes (or ‘shelves’) will also affect the size and type of wave. 

Spilling waves

Spilling waves

Spilling waves are ideal for beginner board riders as they break consistently. Start off in the shallow white water before progressing to deeper water and unbroken waves.
 Dumping waves

Dumping waves

Dumping waves or heavy shore break should be avoided. These waves break quickly with a lot of force making them dangerous for beginners.

Inflatables and bodyboards

Inflatables

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 flags
  • follow the lifeguard’s advice
  • do not take out in big waves
  • never use them when orange windsock is flying, as this indicates offshore winds which will blow inflatables further out to sea.

Bodyboards

​Bodyboarding is fun for all the family, but every year our lifeguards rescue thousands of people who get caught out. The most important advice is to 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 our lifeguards need to rescue you.

Here’s a bit more information about the kit you should have and a few rules of the road…

Equipment

You’ll need the following kit to get started:

 

Boards

Boards

Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.
 Leash

Leash

For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kitesurfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard here.
Wax

Wax

Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.
Fins

Fins

Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.

 

Staying safe

ALWAYS:

  • follow the advice of the lifeguards
  • wear your leash so you don’t lose your board
  • check your equipment for damage before use
  • bodyboard between red and yellow flags
  • consider other water users.

NEVER:

  • ditch your board − it will keep you afloat in an emergency and make you easier to find
  • go alone
  • get on the water in conditions above your capability.

A message from the lifeguards

Now you’re in the know on beach safety, take a minute to hear from the people who keep you safe.

Perranporth lifeguards Georgia and James talk through a typical day on the beach, and tell us what their lifesaving roles mean to them.

To find out more about being an RNLI lifeguard, visit jobs.RNLI.org/lifeguards.

Getting beach fit and sun smart

Beach fit

​Before you get in the water it’s important to consider your personal fitness as the sea can be a very demanding environment. Swimming is one of the best year-round activities to help prepare your body so we’d recommend you get in the pool and start practising now!

Just be aware that sea swimming can be more challenging than the pool so before you start a watersport it’s worth jumping in between the red and yellow flags and familiarising yourself with the conditions.

The RNLI and the ASA are again joining forces this summer to teach children vital skills to stay safe in and around open water.

Swim Safe will run during the 2014 Summer Holiday at Bude, Bournemouth and South Shields and will run 6 days a week during the period. Each session will include a 10 minute talk with RNLI lifeguards and 30 minutes in-water tuition from ASA qualified swimming teachers.

Children must be aged between 7-14 years old and be able to swim a minimum of 25m unaided to take part

To find out lesson times and register an interest in taking part go to www.swimming.org/swimsafe

Swim Safe 2014 – take part, have fun, stay safe.

Sun smart

Sunburn can ruin your holiday and increase the risk of skin cancer in later life. According to our friends at the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity Skcin, we experience over half our lifetime’s exposure to the sun before we reach the age of 21.

So please, keep safe this Summer and follow the five Ss of sun safety:

  • Sunscreen – slop on SPF 30+ broad-spectrum waterproof sunscreen every 2 hours
  • Sun hat – slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears
  • Sunglasses – wear wrap-around sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes
  • Shoulders – slip on a T-shirt or UV protective suit for children and remember to keep your shoulders covered
  • Shade – seek shade, particularly during the hottest time of the day between 11am and 3pm when UV penetration is at its strongest.

For more info on sun safety visit skcin.org

Wetsuits

​The waters around the UK and Ireland can be very cold, even on a warm Summer’s day. A wetsuit will keep you warm and comfortable, allowing your body to perform more efficiently.

Wetsuits are generally made from neoprene and are designed to maintain your body’s core temperature and protect you from the elements. They work by letting a small amount of water in, holding it next to your body, which then heats up from the natural energy produced during exercise. For this reason it’s vital to choose a well-fitted suit to avoid being flushed with cold water. Remember a wetsuit is usually worn with the zip at the back!

Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimetres of neoprene: the thicker the suit the more insulation. As a general rule in the UK and Ireland most people use full suits, which means long arms and long legs:

  • 5:3 = Winter suit approx November–March (5mm neoprene core, 3mm limbs)
  • 4:3 = Spring suit approx April–October (4mm neoprene core, 3mm limbs)
  • 3:2 = Summer suit approx June−September (3mm neoprene core, 2mm limbs

Call for help? / Missing children

If you get into difficulty it’s tempting to try and swim to safety but you should always stay with your kit as it will keep you afloat and make you easier to find in an emergency.

A whistle is a simple and effective method of calling for help when close to shore. When venturing further offshore carry a suitable means of calling for help, such as a waterproof and fully charged VHF or flares.

Don’t forget the international distress signal of hand waving and shouting for help still works!

Missing children

Children are safest when supervised.

As soon as you get to the beach, agree a meeting point in case of separation. If the beach runs a children’s safety scheme, using wristbands or tickets, take part. They’re free and they work. If you are on an RNLI-lifeguarded beach, visit the lifeguard hut on arrival and they can give you special wristbands to put your contact details on.

If a child does go missing:

  • calmly check your surroundings first, ensuring other children remain supervised
  • contact the lifeguards or police and keep them informed
  • let all searchers know once the child is found.

Missing children

Children are safest when supervised.

As soon as you get to the beach, agree a meeting point in case of separation. If the beach runs a children’s safety scheme, using wristbands or tickets, take part. They’re free and they work. If you are on an RNLI-lifeguarded beach, visit the lifeguard hut on arrival and they can give you special wristbands to put your contact details on.

If a child does go missing:

  • calmly check your surroundings first, ensuring other children remain supervised
  • contact the lifeguards or police and keep them informed
  • let all searchers know once the child is found.