Weston RNLI issue safety warning after four major call outs to Birnbeck Island

Lifeboats News Release

Too many people still risk their lives trying to access the island without an understanding of the tides in Weston Bay. The way across looks benign at low tide but soon catches up with the unwary.


Birnbeck Island at high tide

Although it is derelict and falling into the sea, Birnbeck Island and its pier are a fascinating and charming sight. It is connected to the mainland by the pier but at low tide it can also be accessed by a shingle bank, known locally as the Cassie. The rocky island sits in the Bristol Channel, which has the second highest range of tide in the world. The height of the water can vary by up to 15m between low and high tide. In order for this vast amount of water to enter the channel in the six hours between tides, it has to move very fast.

Access across the pier is completely restricted by the Birnbeck Restoration Trust due to safety concerns. Its rotting Victorian buildings, large concrete aprons and long stilled clock tower can be seen from the land. But the Cassie remains, uncovered at low tide, ready to catch out the unwary.

Since the RNLI vacated the island, there have been many occasions where we have had to emergency launch our lifeboats because people have made their way across the shingle bank wanting to explore the damaged island. Sometimes they have managed to get back to safety before the tide completely overwhelmed them, but on several occasions they have been plucked from the raging waters with minutes to spare. This year has already seen four major call outs because of this problem. On one occasion a man was up to his neck in water by the time we found him. The tides rush through under the columns of the old pier and no one can withstand their force. He had only minutes to live.

Richard Spindler, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Weston, said: ‘This was our old home but we would prefer not to have to go back there, as it usually means someone is in serious trouble. If you see anyone going across to the island, please call the coastguard without delay.’

The pier was built in 1864 and the island used to be a major tourist attraction with some rides and experiences which were in the forefront of entertainment. Due to neglect the pier became dangerous, with the public being banned from using it in the 1970s. Only the RNLI, with its quintessential red doored lifeboat station, were permitted to use the island. However, by 2014 the pier became too unstable, so the RNLI had to leave the station and have since set up a temporary station on the Knightstone Piazza.

We always advise keeping well away from the island, even if at the time the water seems still and the way seems peaceful.

RNLI notes to editors

The enclosed pictures show:

  • Birnbeck Island at low tide
  • Birnbeck Island at high tide
  • The lifeboat rescuing a man who was almost completely submerged
  • Two persons clinging to the pier legs with only minutes to live

RNLI media contacts

For further information, please contact Weston-super-Mare RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer Glyn Hayes on 01934 824587 or Chris Lyons Deputy RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer on 07825 347697.

Lifeboats in service at Weston-super-Mare

Atlantic 75 class Lifeboat Coventry and Warwickshire

D class Lifeboat Anna Stock

The station was established in 1882 at the request of the local inhabitants and moved into its current boathouse in 1902. In 2013 we had to leave our lifeboat station on Birnbeck Island as the access pier had become too dangerous. The temporary station at Knightstone is until a new station is built.

To find out more information about Weston-super-Mare lifeboat and for recent events, please log onto our website www.westonrnli.org.uk or contact Glyn Hayes on 01934 824587.


RNLI rescue a man who was almost completely submerged


Birnbeck Island at low tide


RNLI rescue two people clinging to the pier legs with only minutes to live

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