Jersey RNLI Lifeguard saves six lives on the tropical island of Bali

Lifeboats News Release

Jersey lifeguard supervisor Nathan Elms has saved six people in danger of being smashed against rocks and drowned on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Nathan Elms at the cave where he rescued six people

RNLI/Nathan Elms

Nathan Elms at the cave where he rescued six people

During the rescue at the world-famous Uluwatu beach, the waves were crashing onto the shore so violently that Nathan, a keen surfer, was forced to use his surfboard, which eventually broke, to protect the stranded people from the pounding.

Nathan, who joined the RNLI as a lifeguard in 2011, was going for an evening of surfing when he noticed something was wrong and his extensive RNLI training kicked immediately into action.

Access to the tropical beach is through a narrow cave and most people crawl through at low tide. When Nathan arrived, the tide had already started rising, but as a strong swimmer and qualified life-saver he was able to get through the cave to the other side, where he found five women and one man, in their 20s and 30s, who had been cut off with no way back to safety.

‘They’d left it far too late to get back,’ said Nathan, who became an RNLI lifeguard supervisor two years ago. ‘The beach backs onto a cliff and the tide would have risen and risen and it wouldn’t have been good for anyone. I don’t think they could swim and were fully clothed. They didn’t know quite how dangerous the situation was that they were in’.

‘If they’d tried walking around, they all could have been smashed by the rocks and if they stayed where they were they could have been badly beaten against the cliffs, if not they would have got ripped out by the current and swept out to sea,’ he explained.

‘I thought, I’m trained in lifeguarding, I’ve got to do something,’ said Nathan. He quickly realised that to attempt to take the whole group back through the cave at once risked one, or all of them, being swept away by the sea.

‘All the training I’ve received from the RNLI kicked in,’ he said. ‘Be calm, step back, think about the situation – so I decided to take them back through the cave one by one, but with the tide coming in fast and the waves bashing up against the cliff it was getting more and more dangerous so I had to act fast’.

‘I’d get one through, wait a few minutes for the waves to die down and then take another,’ he described. ‘But it was very difficult to predict, the waves were going right left and centre and a couple of them became completely submerged.’

‘I had to put myself in front of them in the danger zone to protect them from the waves and that is how my surfboard got smashed. Whilst helping a lady get through, a big wave doubled up behind us so I had to sacrifice my board to save her from eventually getting smashed against the rocks’.

Eventually Nathan, who is on a surfing holiday in Bali with four other Jersey lifeguards, including his brother Jake, also an RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor on Jersey, was able to get them all to safety.

‘They were shaken up but were grateful and happy and said thank you,’ he explained.

‘It’s isn’t a rescue I’d expected to do on an afternoon surfing, I hadn’t even paddled out to a wave!’ he said. ‘I’m going to have to get a new board, but I was more than happy those lives have been saved!’

‘We are really proud of Nathan and it just shows that RNLI lifeguards are never off duty,’ said RNLI spokesperson Paul Dunt. ‘The training they receive is world class and Nathan’s cool head in the face of danger, undoubtedly helped save these lives on the other side of the world’.

RNLI media contacts

Paul Dunt, RNLI Press Officer (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252,

  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789
Nathan Elms at the cave where he rescued six people

RNLI/Nathan Elms

Nathan Elms at the cave where he rescued six people

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

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