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Drawing a line in the sand: Sand art trial to help reduce drowning

Lifeboats News Release

Vital safety advice is being carved into the sand on Cornish beaches this summer to raise awareness of risks and help reduce drowning.

Swim between the flags written on the beach

RNLI/Will Dax

Safety messages on the sands of Perranporth beach

As part of a summer-long trial, the high impact sand art is being used to highlight the locations of dangerous rip currents and to encourage people to swim between the red and yellow flags, which are patrolled by RNLI lifeguards.

The sand signage is also being used to highlight what time beach goers need to return before they get cut off by the tide.

The idea was developed by David Revell of south west based design consultancy Imagemakers in response to a challenge set by the RNLI as part of its Design Out Drowning programme. The programme challenged designers and communities to explore how to reduce coastal drowning in Devon and Cornwall by rethinking how and where safety messages and drowning prevention interventions are deployed.

David said: ‘The concept is simple: to create signs in the sand that could direct beach users to either the safest part of the sea, or inform them of potential risks and how to avoid them.

‘As we developed the idea, we were considering how to make safety messaging simple, less hassle, more intuitive, timely and a little unusual in order to attract attention. We looked at existing precedents for this type of message delivery, finding examples in art, marketing and sports.

‘Because the beach art might be unexpected and unusual to encounter, we hope that it will capture beach goers’ attention and act as a timely reminder to consider safety as they arrive at the beach.’

The sand signage will be trialled at Bedruthan Steps near Newquay, Watergate Bay and Perranporth. The project’s success in changing beach users’ behaviour will be monitored before the lifesaving charity can assess its potential to be rolled out to other locations in the future.

Steve Instance, RNLI Community Safety Manager for the south west, said: ‘Last year, 25 people lost their lives on the coast in the south west. Too many people are getting cut off by tides or being caught out in rip currents, so we’re exploring new ways of raising awareness of these dangers.

‘The sand signage concept carries great impact and we hope will help alert people to the risks that are present at that beach. We’re absolutely committed to reducing the number of people who drown around the coast and this is a new concept that could help achieve that.

‘While we are still very much in the early stages of trialling the sand signage, the initial tests have been well received and certainly captured people’s attention.

‘We’ll continue testing throughout the summer and perfecting its installation while exploring how it could be rolled out to other locations.’

Last year, RNLI lifeboat crews launched 8,964 times, aiding 9,412 people, while the charity’s lifeguards attended 19,449 incidents and aided 32,207 people.

RNLI lifeguards attended 979 incidents where people were caught in rip currents and 804 incidents of people being cut off by the tide in 2018. These were the two most common causes of incidents attended by the charity’s lifeguards.

Swim between the flags written on the beach with families around it

RNLI/Will Dax

Safety messages on the sands of Perranporth beach
The words 'tidal cut off be back by 1250' carved into the sand

David Revell

Tidal cut off signage at Bedruthan Steps near Newquay
David Revell carving safety messages into the sand

RNLI/Will Dax

David Revell carving safety messages into the sand
David Revell with his rake on the beach

RNLI/Will Dax

David Revell
Steve Instance on the beach

RNLI/Will Dax

Steve Instance, RNLI Community Safety Manager

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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.