‘Luckily we were still on the beach’: Life saved in joint rescue involving lifeguards and lifeboat crew

It was just after 7pm on Wednesday 27 June on Portrush’s East Strand Beach. ‘The lifeguards had just finished for the day and were packing up,’ recalls Senior Lifeguard Josh McCaw. 
Portrush East Strand

Photo: Shutterstock

‘Albert and Marcus were taking the rescue equipment off the beach and washing it down to get it ready for the following morning,' Josh continues.

'A member of the public came up to them and expressed concern about a man entering the water, pointing to a spot about 500m away. Albert and Marcus grabbed their rescue boards and started off down the beach. The fourth member of the lifeguard team, Nicola, called me on the radio. While I joined Albert and Marcus, Nicola stayed in the lifeguard hut so she could liaise with the Coastguard.’

RNLI Lifeguard Josh McCaw
RNLI Lifeguard Josh McCaw

Lucky to be alive

Fortunately, Portrush’s inshore lifeboat Helm Ben Wilson and his crew were on a training exercise at Ramore Head nearby.

‘As we approached East Strand, we noticed two RNLI lifeguards running along the beach in the direction of a young man in the water, who was about 80m offshore,’ Ben explains. ‘We hadn’t received a call on the radio, so we assumed that the alarm had only just been raised.'

Portrush D class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Mark Mitchell

‘We sped towards him to ascertain if he was the casualty,' Ben continues. 'It quickly became apparent he was in difficulty. When we were 25m away, he turned around to face us and started moving his arms and legs as if he was climbing a ladder. We slowed right down as we got to him. Then he stopped moving. He just lay on his back and began to sink.

‘We grabbed hold of him and pulled him out of the water, notified the Coastguard and brought the casualty ashore. He was conscious and talking, though dazed and confused. He wasn’t wearing a wetsuit, only a pair of swimming shorts. If we’d been just a few minutes later, he could have drowned. I don’t think he realised quite how lucky he was.’

Portrush RNLI Crew Member Ben Wilson
Portrush RNLI Crew Member Ben Wilson with the station's Severn class all-weather lifeboat

‘Once they were ashore the crew transferred the casualty into the lifeguards’ care,’ says Josh. We helped him into the lifeguard hut. We carried out all our casualty care checks, asking him if there was anyone with him and if he had banged his head. We also checked his vital signs – his breathing rate, his heart pumping rate (capillary refill) and how alert he was.’

The lifeguards monitored the man before judging him to have recovered well enough to rejoin his friends further up the beach.

Portrush RNLI's inshore lifeboat

Photo: Stephen Scott

It’s no accident that our lifeboat crews and lifeguards are able to work together seamlessly as they did on this rescue. The lifeguards train with the lifeboat crew at Portrush every year. They focus on good communications between lifeguards and the crew. And they practise many different rescue scenarios, including ones like this.

Float to live

If you fall into water, fight your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes.

The average temperature of British and Irish waters is 12-15°C – cold enough to cause cold water shock. Cold water shock makes you gasp uncontrollably and breathe in water, which can quickly lead to drowning.

Fight your instinct to swim, pause, and float on your back until you are able to catch your breath. Doing so may save your life.

The majority of RNLI lifeguard incidents involve rip currents. If you’re caught in a rip current, our advice is to:

  • stay calm
  • float on your back to regulate your breathing until you can swim to shore or call for help
  • 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 the shore.

Find out more at RespectTheWater.com.

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