RNLI lifeguards team up with detectorists to reveal hidden dangers beneath sands
When it comes to safety on the beaches RNLI lifeguards never bury their heads in the sands. In fact, lifeguards in north Kent have gone one step further – by searching beneath the sands at local beaches to uncover hidden dangers that could injure visitors.
Lifeguard supervisor Stuart Cattell, who is based in Thanet and who organises RNLI lifeguard patrols for local beaches, became very concerned after storms at the end of April destroyed beach huts at Minnis Bay and Westbrook Bay, scattering debris from the properties and leaving it buried in the sand, which had been churned up by the extreme weather.
‘It was incredible to see the destruction that was left behind after the waves and wind took their toll,’ described Stuart. ‘The beach huts were thrown around like matchboxes, some were smashed to bits and the once neat line of huts had gone, with many pushed some distance from their original location.’
Even more worrying was that many of the contents of the beach huts had been thrown all over the beach and buried in the sand, including many items such as knives, forks and other kitchen utensils which could prove a real hazard to people visiting the beaches, now the weather has improved.
Stuart’s fears were confirmed when he heard about an accident, earlier this month, involving a five-year-old boy who suffered a deep cut to his knee caused by a sharp object when he was visiting his family’s beach hut at Westbrook Bay beach recently.
Henry McCoy from Thanet had been playing with his dad James when the accident happened. James had been throwing a boomerang and Henry had been diving into the sand to retrieve it. Suddenly Henry screamed as his knee went into the sand and revealed a large and nasty wound.
Shocked and in pain, Henry ended up spending two days in hospital in the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. He was given an X-ray and then had to have surgery to repair the wound and flush out all the sand which had got beneath the skin. Following the procedure he had a cast fitted down the entire length of his leg to protect his knee and needed to use a frame to walk.
‘The hardest part for Henry is that he was banned from any sports for over two weeks,’ said his mum Amy ‘It's difficult to explain to a 5 year old boy that he can't run, jump or climb!’
It was following Henry’s accident that Stuart, who has been with the RNLI for six years, with the past three years as a lifeguard supervisor, was determined to do something to protect visitors to the beaches. Although more used to alerting beach goers to dangers above the sand, rather than lurking beneath it, Stuart, who previously worked for fourteen years as a lifeguard for the local council, had the novel idea of teaming up with local metal detectorists to use their metal detectors to scan the beach, not for buried treasure, but for hidden hazards.
So last weekend saw the lifeguards meeting up with five year old Henry and members of the Saxon Shore Metal Detecting Club to scan the sands of Minnis and Westbrook Bays and clear up any dangers.
‘The volunteer detectorists from the club were absolutely brilliant,’ said Stuart. ‘Using their equipment they were able to do a thorough sweep of the areas affected and they uncovered was extraordinary range of objects, many of them with sharp edges that could have caused serious harm.’
'Although we aren't completely sure what cut Henry’s knee, we know it was a sharp object to have caused such damage,’ said Stuart. ‘We are grateful for all those involved in various beach clean attempts and especially to the Saxon Shore Metal Detectors Club for their efforts in making the beach a safer place. In the short time that Henry was with the metal detectors, they found two huge nails and a broken can. This was in a few square metres.’
‘We are hoping that Henry’s story can be turned into a lesson for all; to be extra vigilant on our beaches and to remember that we don’t know what dangers lurk under the sand!’ added Stuart, who has also volunteered as crew on the Margate lifeboat for the past decade.
RNLI lifeguards, clad in their distinctive red and yellow uniforms, will be returning to patrol many of Kent’s beaches from this Saturday, 26 May. Patrols will take place on the following beaches until Sunday 2 September: Minnis Bay, West Bay, St Mildred’s, Westbrook Bay, Margate Main, Botany Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay, Broadstairs (Viking Bay), Ramsgate, Sheerness and Leysdown-on-Sea. RNLI lifeguards will be at Minster-on-Sea from Saturday 7 July to Sunday 2 September.
Visitors to RNLI patrolled beaches are advised to swim between the red and yellow flags. The lifeguards, who receive world-class training and are equipped with the very latest safety equipment, are on hand to respond to anyone in difficulty in the water and provide both major and minor first aid. However a large proportion of their work is to provide important safety advice to beach goers aimed at preventing people getting into trouble in the first place.
RNLI Media Contacts:
Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer, London and South East (07785) 296252 firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Cattell, Lifeguard Supervisor for Thanet (07964) 115169 email@example.com
For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789
The Saxon Shore Metal Detecting Club was formed in February of this year and affiliated with the Garden of England Metal Detecting Club in March. It has around 34 members and supports local charities including the Kent and Sussex Air Ambulance, Diabetes UK and Holy Trinity Church, Ramsgate.
Member that participated in the clean-up were Carl Boarder, Andy Roost, Brad Head, Paul Williams, John White, John Cunningham, Matteusz Godzwon, Les Bzur, Paul Williams, Russ Beal & Justin Dryden.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.