The courage within

A show of strength and bravery by one young lifeguard during a challenging season saves the lives of three young people. 

An RNLI lifeguard training on a rescue board

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Saturday 11 July 2020 was another busy day for RNLI lifeguards on Ramsgate Main Sands. The dedicated lifeguard team had made a welcome return to the popular Kent beach just 8 days earlier, following a change in the UK Government’s coronavirus restrictions. Thankfully, they could now keep a watchful eye over the beachgoers who were making the most of their post-lockdown freedom. 

In his second year as an RNLI lifeguard, 17-year-old Mowgli Palmer was at the shoreline, watching over those enjoying the water between the red and yellow flags. At around 1pm, Senior Lifeguard Gabe Drew radioed Mowgli and asked him to go and check on a couple of swimmers at the east end of the beach. As Mowgli began to get ready, Gabe radioed again. The swimmers were caught in a strong tidal current, which was dragging them out around the back of East Pier.

A lifesaving paddle

With no time to spare, Mowgli grabbed a rescue board and rescue tube, ran into the sea and began paddling the 200m to the back of the pier. It took him just 2 minutes to reach the swimmers – two 15-year-olds. 

‘They were both tired and cold,’ remembers Mowgli, ‘But the boy was suffering more from the effects of the cold water, so I decided to get him onto the rescue board and secured the rescue tube around the girl.

‘I needed to get them to shallower water where they could rest and stand up. The closest area was Starfish Bay behind the back of the pier. I paddled the boy there, staying close to the girl as she swam alongside us.

‘I heard the horn of Ramsgate Lifeboat Station, signalling its launch. And a member of the public shouted down from the pier to say the lifeboat was on its way.’

Mowgli Palmer, alongside Senior Lifeguard Gabe Drew, outside their beach lifeguard unit in Ramsgate

Photo: RNLI/Ellie Hopper

Standing proud: RNLI Lifeguards Gabe Drew and Mowgli Palmer

Backup arrives

Once Ramsgate inshore lifeboat crew arrived, they helped the two teenagers onboard and took them back to Ramsgate Main Sands where Gabe and Lifeguard Supervisor Ellie Hopper were waiting to take care of them.

Feeling elated about his first rescue of the season, Mowgli paddled back round to the main beach. Little did he know that just a couple of hours later, another young life would be in his hands.

In the moment

At around 3pm, Mowgli was watching the shoreline again and keeping an eye on a family of three playing ball.

A young boy and an adult on the beach were throwing the ball to another boy in the water. Only the ball got thrown too far. The 14-year-old boy in the water managed to swim the 2–3m out to retrieve it. But on his way back, his progress slowed and suddenly, his head just sank under the water.

Mowgli had to react so fast, there was no time to remove his lifeguard jumper or bum bag.

RNLI Lifeguard Mowgli Palmer on Ramsgate Beach

Photo: RNLI/Ellie Hopper

Lifeguard Mowgli on Ramsgate Beach

‘I ran down the sloping beach and sprinted into the water, half swimming, half wading my way out to the boy. I pushed my rescue tube towards him, which he instantly grabbed, and this enabled him to keep his head above the water. 

‘I don’t remember thinking anything. I was just completely in the moment. The whole thing from me spotting the boy in difficulty to giving him the rescue tube took less than 10 seconds. ‘I helped him out of the water and took him to the lifeguard unit. Gabe met us and together we checked the boy’s condition and warmed him up with a blanket. He was very shaken. I don’t think he’d expected to get into difficulty so close to the beach. The steep shelving sand at Ramsgate means the water gets deep very quickly.

‘Soon after we reunited him with his brother and uncle who he’d been playing ball with. They hadn’t realised he was struggling in the water and thought he was just joking about.’

Real courage

‘Mowgli is one of our youngest lifeguards and to save three lives in a day is amazing,’ says Ellie. ‘Our lifeguards receive world-class lifesaving training, but to do what he did takes real courage. His observation skills in spotting the swimmers in difficulty were first class. And then to act so quickly was exceptional.’ 

Stay safe at the beach

  • Visit a lifeguarded beach and ask lifeguards for advice.
  • Swim between the red and yellow flags.
  • If you get into trouble in the water, float on your back before calling for help.
  • If you see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
  • Follow our advice to protect your family on our beach safety pages.

You're an important part of our lifesaving crew too - just like Mowgli. By making a small donation to the RNLI, whatever you can afford to give, you'll help save lives at the coast.