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Choose a beach patrolled by RNLI lifeguards and stay safe this summer

RNLI lifeguards on duty this summer

RNLI/Charis Walker

The 2024 lifeguarding season starts soon. And while our first thoughts may be of sun, sea, sand and good times, RNLI lifeguards on duty all around the UK and Channel Islands are thinking beach safety. Before you and your loved ones head out, do you know how to keep safe at the beach?

We may be biased but, as far as we’re concerned, the beach is the best place to be once the weather warms up. However, beachgoers often get caught out by hidden dangers. Last year, RNLI lifeguards saved 86 people’s lives and helped almost 20,000 people – more than half of them children.

So as our lifeguards prepare to answer the call for help, brush up on your beach safety knowledge to support our lifesavers in their mission to save every one.

When does lifeguard season start?

RNLI lifeguard patrols begin with a phased approach. The Easter holidays see our first set of beaches going on service, with the number of beaches increasing through the season until the peak school summer holidays when over 240 beaches are watched over by our world-class lifeguards.

An RNLI lifeguard on a yellow rescue board, paddling out to sea

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

RNLI lifeguards are training to keep people safe at the beach this summer

Getting ready for the beach: lifeguard season

Our lifeguards could be asked to do any number of things – from finding lost children and giving first aid to offering local safety advice and rescuing people caught in rip currents. So they begin preparations early each year.

For the RNLI’s Lifeguard Team, the season begins in January when lead supervisors begin to put their careful planning and tough training into action. Every year, lifeguards old and new take part in a 2-week induction. For the experienced lifeguards, it’s a chance to refamiliarise themselves with what they’ve learned before. For newcomers, it’s a chance to get prepared for the season ahead. There’s first aid competency training, fitness tests, and a health and safety assessment. And for some RNLI lifeguards, they need to qualify to operate the inshore rescue boats (IRBs) and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). 

Behind the scenes, lifeguard units and kit are being prepared too. Beach huts are made ready for the incoming team. First aid kits, rescue equipment and spares are organised. And a lot of sunscreen is ordered!

A lifeguard stands facing the sea, watching over it. Next to her is a rescue board and a red and yellow flag.

Photo: RNLI/Nick Mailer

Swim between the flags: the red and yellow lifeguard flag shows where it’s safer to swim

How to stay safe at the beach: 7 top tips

As RNLI lifeguards get ready for the new season, what can you do to ensure you and your loved ones know how to keep safe at the beach?

1. Choose a lifeguarded beach

With 240 RNLI lifeguarded beaches around the UK and Channel Islands, it’s easy to find a lifeguarded beach near you or your holiday destination. You’ll have the protection of highly trained lifesavers who can see the dangers develop, prevent accidents before they happen and respond instantly if anyone gets into difficulty.  

Our friendly lifeguards will also share safety advice to help keep you and your loved ones safe as you enjoy the beach. Go and say hello when you arrive and ask them about any local hazards.

2. Have a plan and keep an eye out

It’s important that you know the risks and what you can do to minimise them. From rip currents to tides, cold water shock to waves, being aware of the dangers will help you to stay safe.

Check you know how to stay safe in the sea. And before going into the water, ask yourself if the conditions exceed your ability.
Go with others – and look out for each other. While you’re at the beach, keep an eye on your loved ones at all times and avoid taking risks in the sea.

3. In an emergency, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard

When you go to the beach, always carry a means of calling for help. If you’re going in the water, you can carry your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. That way, if you find yourself or spot someone else in an emergency situation, you can get help. 

Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard – they’re ready to get help right where it’s needed in an emergency.

4. Float to Live

If you fall into the water unexpectedly, Float to Live. Relax and try to breathe normally. Tilt your head back and submerge your ears. Use your hands to help you stay afloat. Once your breathing is under control, call for help or swim to safety.

Share this skill with your loved ones – it could save their life.

5. Swim between the flags

At lifeguarded beaches, look out for the red and yellow lifeguard flag – they show you where it’s safe to swim. Keep between these flags if you’re bodyboarding too. 

The sea can be dangerously unpredictable. And even on a calm, sunny day, conditions can change quickly. Our lifeguards adjust the flags throughout the day, monitoring conditions through a combination of local knowledge, patrolling, and training knowledge. 

If you’re in the water with a surfboard, stand-up paddleboard or other non-powered craft, go between the black and white chequered flag. Do not swim there.

Stay out of the water if a red flag is flying – it means the water is dangerous.

6. Don’t use inflatables

While inflatables can be great fun when used safely, they’re not designed for the beach and make you susceptible to being swept out to sea. Every summer, inflatables are one of the most common reasons our lifeboat crews and lifeguards are called to action. Keep them to the swimming pool.

7. Protect yourself from the sun

Being safe at the beach isn’t all about water safety. The sun can be just as dangerous. Lifeguards are on-hand for first aid, but you can take steps to ensure you won’t need their help. 

  • Put on plenty of sunscreen. Top it up throughout the day and when you get out of the water.
  • Find some shade – your body will need a break from the sun. Covering yourself up with a hat and clothes will help protect your skin. But to really cool off, find a spot in some shade. Or bust out a windbreaker or an old tent to create your own shade.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Keeping hydrated will help prevent a number of issues that can turn your fun in the sun into a damp squib.

Whatever your plans, find more top tips on our beach safety page.

RNLI lifeguard giving safety advice to young family on Praa Sands beach, Cornwall

Photo: RNLI/Charis Walker

Where are the beaches with lifeguards near me?

There are more than 240 RNLI lifeguard beaches around the UK and Ireland. Planning a trip? Find your closest RNLI lifeguarded beach.

Will you help us keep the coasts safe?

Your support is vital to our lifeguards. Summer is our busiest season and our lifesavers can only do what they do best because of the equipment, training and operational support that kind donations like yours will provide.

Make a donation today and you will be a lifesaver.