RNLI lifeguards in Cornwall and Devon likely saved 17 lives from rip currents
The RNLI is urging people to make sure they are visiting a lifeguarded beach if heading to the coast, as dangerous sea conditions are hitting the South West.
The importance of this was highlighted yesterday (Thursday 20 August), when RNLI lifeguards at Tregonhawke and Tregantle in Cornwall’s Whitsand Bay likely saved 12 lives, eight of which were in a mass rescue. At Sennen in West Cornwall, it is thought three lives were saved, and over in Sedgewell Cove in South Devon, two more lives were likely saved.
The rescues started at 11:15am at Tregantle, where a group of people were being directed by lifeguards to go back into the red and yellow flagged area. Four managed to get safely to shore but three (a father, son, and daughter) were caught in a strong rip current and dragged approximately 100m off-shore. RNLI lifeguards Emile Michaels and Dan Hickson entered the water on rescue boards, securing the three casualties on rescue boards and then assisting them to shore. In the extremely challenging sea conditions, it is thought all three lives would have been lost without the lifeguards’ intervention.
Another rescue occurred shortly after, further down the bay at Tregonhawke around 12:45pm, when two casualties on bodyboards were rescued from just outside the red and yellow flagged zone after getting caught in a rip current. One of the casualties had Parkinson’s disease, so was in shock and at risk of drowning. Fortunately, lifeguards Matt Holt and Tristan Gillett quickly responded with rescue tubes and rescued both casualties, bringing them back to shore safely.
Just 45 minutes later at 1:30pm, a strong rip current had formed to the east of the red and yellow flags at Tregonhawke at low tide, with surf between 5-8 feet. Very quickly eight people were dragged into the current outside of the flagged area. Lifeguard Matt Holt responded with a rescue tube and lifeguard Sophie Conway informed the Beach Lifeguard Unit of the situation.
The inshore rescue boat (IRB) was immediately launched, and Lifeguard Supervisor Beau Gillett also responded on a rescue board. Off duty lifeguard Andy Wrennall also assisted in the rescue. The IRB picked up four people and returned them to shore, before shepherding the remaining lifeguards and casualties to shore. Once all people were safely returned, the IRB was stood down. The beach was subsequently red flagged due to the incoming tides and inshore holes developing.
Another incident took place yesterday at Sedgewell Cove in Devon around midday during a spring low tide. RNLI lifeguard, Ivan Burton, spotted two body boarders struggling to return to shore and were caught in a strong rip current. They had entered the water from the causeway and were quickly swept off their feet. The backwash was causing 2m dumping waves to form and crash onto the rocks. A quick response by lifeguards, Ivan Burton and Seb Dickens resulted in both casualties saved and safely returned to shore on rescue boards.
Sennen lifeguards also experienced an extremely busy day with multiple rescues including incidents in which three lives were likely saved. Yesterday morning, two people were on stand-up paddle boards to the south of the beach and were immediately blown out to sea and caught in a strong rip current dragging them 200m off-shore. RNLI lifeguards, Mike Lay and Callum Gardner immediately launched the RWC (rescue watercraft) and rescue board to their aid and safely returned the casualties to shore.
Later in the day, the swell was continuing to build and caused major rip currents to form outside the bathing area. Sennen lifeguards were performing multiple rescues to bathers being dragged outside of the red and yellow flags and one girl was struggling to keep her head above the water. Due to the large, unpredictable conditions, they then decided to raise the red flag, which means it is unsafe for any water activities.
Beau Gillett, Lifeguard Supervisor in South East Cornwall, said,
‘These rescues demonstrate the importance of going to a lifeguarded beach, staying between the red and yellow flags, and always making sure you are listening to the lifeguards’ advice.
‘If you do see a red flag at a lifeguarded beach, remember it is there for a reason and the conditions are simply too dangerous so please do not enter the water.’
Across exposed coastal areas in Devon and Cornwall, current forecasts for Friday and Saturday are predicting wave heights between 6-9 feet coupled with strong south westerly winds across the region. These conditions, alongside large spring tides, can result in a dangerous sea state and increase the risk of strong rip currents.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, follow this advice:
· Don’t try to swim against it, you will quickly get exhausted.
· If you can stand, wade don’t swim.
· Swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore
· Always raise your hand and shout for help.
Notes to editors
· For beaches that are currently lifeguarded visit: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/beaches-with-lifeguards-on-patrol
· Please find attached photos of the RNLI lifeguards involved in the rescues at Whitsand Bay (Credit RNLI/Charlie Gillett)
RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Marianne Quinn, Regional Media Officer, on Marianne_Quinn@rnli.org.uk or 07786 668847, or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.