Whitstable RNLI Lifeboat in Joint Services Exercise
With Covid restrictions being eased and people choosing to ‘staycation’ due to uncertainty over foreign travel, the RNLI is expecting its lifeboat crews to have a very busy summer.
The scenario involved the recovery from the water of a person who had jumped or fallen from the pier and was rescued by the lifeguards, assisted by the lifeboat in an operation co-ordinated by the coastguard rescue team.
On the alarm being raised the lifeguards used their rescue boards to reach the casualty (played by a fellow lifeguard) and on arrival of the lifeboat was taken onboard and landed ashore at the beach to be assisted by the coastguard team whilst the lifeguard made their own way ashore.
Both before and after the exercise crews all those involved discussed their actions highlighting any issues arising from their actions.
Andy Mayo, Whitstable Lifeboat Community Sea Safety Officer, is the man charged with overseeing the campaign for Whitstable lifeboat’s stretch of the coast.
Says Andy, 'Last year, Whitstable lifeboat was launched on service to 72 incidents - the highest total for some years, and already this year we have seen increased numbers of visitors to our patch between Reculver in the east and The Swale to the west, and around the south eastern shore of the Isle of Sheppey. So far this year, our crews have responded to calls on 20 occasions'.
'We really cannot emphasise enough the importance of taking adequate safety precautions when venturing on, into, or even being beside the sea, and whilst we certainly do not want to be killjoys, a few simple actions will help to minimise any risk'.
'For example, we see a variety of small craft in our area, ranging from paddleboards, which have become very popular in recent times, to kayaks, yachts and motor cruisers, speedboats and jet skis, and our advice to the users of such craft is to, at the very least, wear buoyancy aids, carry some means of communication preferably a VHF radio (small waterproof radios suitable for paddleboarders, wind surfers and kite boarders are readily available). However, it should be pointed out that in some areas and further out to sea, a mobile phone may not work and one cannot rely on them. Flares are another item that water users should consider carrying'.
'In respect of small craft, people should always ensure that they are in a seaworthy condition with properly maintained gear and well-serviced engines, adequate fuel for the trip, and with an anchor capable of securing a craft in the event of an emergency. Users of all craft should be aware of the local conditions such as wind, tide and weather forecasts, sandbanks, channels and marker buoys. Those venturing out in small craft are also advised to be well familiar with their craft before going any distance offshore; lifeboat crews all too often hear that a casualty 'had only just got the boat the day before'.
Andy is also keen to point out that users of small craft, or even larger vessels, should be wary of visiting certain interesting-looking locations in the area. 'We recently had to assist people off the derelict former Herne Bay pier head - not a safe structure to explore - and the wartime forts further out into the Thames Estuary are definitely structures to avoid attempting to land on'.
But perhaps the greatest concern surrounds inflatables. 'Only last week, we launched to four young adults in an inflatable paddling pool. Fortunately, they made it back to the shore before the lifeboat arrived at the scene but over the years, we have had numerous calls to these toys. Leave them at home - they are designed for the pool, not open water. Wind and current can very quickly take you out to sea and into danger. We have often located people, including children, several hundred yards and even up to one mile offshore'.
For those who wish to follow the simpler pursuit of swimming or paddling, much of the safety advice mentioned earlier still applies. Andy continued, 'Swimmers and beach users should always be aware of wind and tide, exactly the same as those who use small craft. If possible, swim at lifeguarded beaches, which in our area can be found at Tankerton and just to the west of Herne Bay pier, or in areas covered by the National Coastwatch who have lookouts at the Swalecliffe end of Tankerton beach and to the east of the King's Hall in Herne Bay, or at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey. Swimmers should also be aware of the possibility of thermal shock; water temperatures do not really warm up until late July and August and on that note, the practice of 'tombstoning' has its thermal shock risks, as well as the possibility of hitting underwater obstructions or, indeed, other people'.
Andy concluded, 'Coastal areas provide a great opportunity to enjoy fresh air and open space but they can be an unpredictable and dangerous environment, but if everybody takes all reasonable precautions and follows the key safety advice, then there is no reason for visitors to our beaches and waters not to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Remember - if you do get into trouble, float to live – lie on your back and relax, resisting the urge to thrash about. For those in difficulty, or anyone who sees an emergency, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard'.
For further information on the beach safety campaign visit: RNLI.org/BeachUK2021
Notes to editors
Whitstable RNLI Lifeboat Station was established in 1963 by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and is one of 237 lifeboat stations around the shores of the UK and Ireland. The volunteer crews provide a maritime search and rescue service for the Kent coast. They cover the area between the Kingsferry Bridge on the Swale in the west, around the south-eastern side of Sheppey and along the coast through Whitstable and Herne Bay to Reculver in the east, and outwards into the Thames Estuary.
The station is equipped with an Atlantic 85 lifeboat named Lewisco, purchased through the bequest of a Miss Lewis of London who passed away in 2006.
She is what is known as a rigid inflatable inshore lifeboat, the boat’s rigid hull being topped by an inflatable sponson. She carries a crew of four people.
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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.