Bournemouth: Swimmer under pier pressure

When a swimmer drew close to a pier at a Dorset beach, lifeguards moved quickly to warn him of the dangers – but they soon found he needed more than advice.

An RNLI lifeguard on a rescue water craft close to Boscombe pier

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

The waters off Boscombe beach in Bournemouth looked deceptively calm on 5 May. Senior Lifeguard Dominic Richard was one of the RNLI team just days into their Summer patrol season, and he took to the sea aboard a rescue watercraft (RWC) to practise his skills. It wasn’t long before he needed to call upon them for real.

‘One of the other lifeguards back on the beach had spotted a swimmer, on the other side of the pier from me, about 150m out to sea,’ recalls Dominic.

‘So I headed a bit nearer to advise him of the dangers round there – a bit of easterly wind and swell had picked up. When that combines with the tidal change and currents around the pier, it can get pretty dangerous.’

RNLI lifeguard on a rescue water craft going out to sea

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

As Dominic approached and the swimmer’s face came into view, he realised all was not well. ‘The man’s face was panicked,’ says Dominic. ‘He was really tired and had the look of “save me” … he had underestimated that swell.’

After being pushed further out to sea than planned – and expending most of his energy – the man was now drifting underneath Boscombe Pier, with its concrete, barnacle-encrusted pillars and eddying waters.

To reach the man in the quickest time possible, Dominic decided to head underneath the pier rather than go around it. ‘This was a technically difficult rescue to carry out,’ says Mike Winter, Boscombe Lifeguard Supervisor. ‘It’s hard to drive a ski [RWC] in and around hazards like that.’

But Dominic safely negotiated the pier structure, drew alongside the swimmer and grabbed his hand at the first attempt.

‘He wasn’t saying much when I got him aboard – I think he was quite shaken up,’ adds Dominic, who pulled the man onto the craft’s rescue sled and radioed fellow Lifeguard Dan Miller to request medical help on the shore.

Powering onto the sand, Dominic helped the swimmer off the sled and into Dan’s care. ‘He was tired out, but medically okay. Thankfully he hadn’t bumped his head or swallowed any water,’ explains Mike. ‘It was a great job by Dominic – his training has obviously paid off and been put to good use. It's another example of why people should choose a lifeguarded beach.’

‘He would have got more and more tired – and probably drowned’

Senior Lifeguard Dominic Richard

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Senior Lifeguard Dominic Richard

'They weren’t the most dramatic conditions in terms of waves but the current under the pier is dangerous.

'My training and experience on the RWC helped so much – it was about using enough power to reach the casualty but not so much that I put him or myself in danger.

'It was vital I got hold of him first time because, if I missed him, I would have had to do a fresh approach.

'And while you’re doing that, people can lose more energy, start going under and so on. He was on his own, so if we hadn’t been there he would have got more and more tired – and probably drowned.'