RNLI lifeguards: Watching over the water

Lifeguards spring into action to aid a capsized kayaker in a rip current.
Lifeguard heading to the water with their rescue board

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

It was a chilly day on Perranporth Beach. The Easter holidays were in full swing and people had flocked to the beach to enjoy the sand and surf. 

Lifeguard Frazer Thompson-Hewitt was on duty when he spotted a kayaker drifting out of the black and white chequered flag area. 

‘He was upright in his kayak, everything looked OK for now,’ remembers Frazer. ‘But I radioed Will to ask him to pick him up, just to be safe.’

Fellow Lifeguard Will McRitchie was close to the water’s edge, keeping watch from his patrol vehicle. Just as Frazer was radioing Will, the kayaker capsized.

Lifeguard Frazer Thompson-Hewitt

Photo: RNLI/Max Lawrence

Lifeguard Frazer Thompson-Hewitt

Will leapt into action. He grabbed his rescue board from the roof of the patrol vehicle, ran into the water and started paddling out to sea.

‘The kayaker had lost his kayak and paddle and was getting pulled into a nasty rip,’ says Frazer, who watched the rescue unfold. 

‘He was going one way and his equipment was going another.’

Will adds: ‘He was being pulled further out, getting hit by bigger and bigger waves. His head was bobbing up and down, and he was thrashing around.’

Time was of the essence. Fighting against the 1m waves, messy surf and cold water, Will powered out to the kayaker. It wasn’t an easy task. ‘Will was facing pretty difficult conditions, with quite strong rips,’ says Frazer. 

Lifeguard Will McRitchie

Photo: RNLI/Sam Chamberlain

Lifeguard Will McRitchie

Time was of the essence. Fighting against the 1m waves, messy surf and cold water, Will powered out to the kayaker. It wasn’t an easy task. ‘Will was facing pretty difficult conditions, with quite strong rips,’ says Frazer. 

Thanks to Will’s quick reactions and the lifeguard training, he reached the kayaker and managed to pull him onto his board. ’He was quite shaken up,’ says Will.

Frazer explains: ‘The kayaker hadn’t realised the trouble he was in until Will got to him. Then the panic set in as he started to understand the severity of the situation.’

Back safely on shore the kayaker was relieved his ordeal was over but it had been a frightening experience. His daughter was on the shore and had witnessed the whole scene unfold. ‘She was very shaken up too, as you’d imagine,’ Frazer says. ‘Thankfully he was OK and able to enjoy the rest of his day with his family.’

‘If it wasn’t a lifeguarded beach and there weren’t people around, he could have ended up in quite a bit of difficulty,’ reflects Frazer. ‘If Will hadn’t reached him, he could have been in the water for a very long time.

The scene of the drama – Perranporth Beach

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

The scene of the drama – Perranporth Beach

‘The kayaker was wise in that he was wearing a buoyancy aid. But when Will reached him, he realised it was loose – so it wasn’t very effective,’ says Frazer.

‘We tend to get quite a few rescues here and it’s usually down to inexperience. It’s not people going out of their way to ignore our advice – it’s more about them not knowing the local beach conditions and the topography of the area.’

Frazer recommends: ‘If possible, visit a lifeguarded beach in the summer. Just take
5 minutes to chat to the lifeguards. We’re friendly and can share useful advice that makes all the difference.’

Will agrees: ‘If you have any questions at the beach, just come and ask us. It’s always best to ask.’

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Frazer says: ‘Donations like yours help fund essential lifesaving equipment, like our inshore rescue boat and rescue boards – they’re our bread and butter. Without such
generous supporters, this rescue could have ended very differently.’

‘The training is essential too,’ adds Will. ‘It means we know what to do in these kinds of scenarios. And our kit makes sure we can deal with any sort of rescue.’

You can help save lives at sea with a donation today. From kit to crew training to kids’ education, you’ll be making a real difference to our volunteers – and the people they save.

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