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RNLI lifeguards in the south west celebrate 20 years and 1,462 lives saved

Lifeguards News Release

The RNLI has reached 20 years of delivering a world class lifeguard service to coastal communities across the south west.

As the charity’s lifesavers celebrate the significant milestone, they are urging families to take note of beach safety advice as figures reveal their interventions saved the lives of 23* children and teenagers in 2020, and they brace themselves for another busy summer holiday season.

Since the inception of the RNLI lifeguard service in 2001, RNLI lifeguards in the south west have saved the lives of 1,462 people, aided 273,210 people, responded to 229,871 incidents and carried out over 19 million preventative actions. Starting with just 15 beaches in the south west*, the charity’s lifeguard service now operates on over 90 beaches across the region.

Back in 2001 lifesaving and surf clubs were already patrolling some beaches in the region, as well as local council-run services. But as coastal usage increased the scale of cover required was not enough. The RNLI wanted to provide a solution, so along with lifesaving clubs and beach owners, they piloted a beach rescue service in Newquay, south east Cornwall and Weymouth, Bournemouth and Poole in Dorset. The results spoke for themselves as 20 lives were saved in the first year.

It led to an official service being formed and advancement in the equipment and training available to lifeguards. Safety literature information and warning signs were also developed for beaches so visitors knew what dangers they may encounter and how to keep themselves safe.

James Millidge, an RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager now looking after the volunteers and teams at five lifeboat stations and 12 beaches on the north and south coasts, was part of the team of RNLI lifeguards who started the service on Whitsand Bay in 2001. He says;

‘Thanks to RNLI lifeguards our beaches are safer places, so we can enjoy our time at the coast and return home safely at the end of the day. Around 95% of a lifeguard’s work is prevention. They keep beachgoers safe by educating them about water safety and spotting the dangers before accidents happen.

However, should an incident occur, RNLI lifeguards are there to respond immediately and did just this in the summer of 2020, assisting 3,759 children and teenagers. The most common activity was bodyboarding with a total of 852 (22%) incidents involving under 20’s, followed by swimming with 449 (12%) incidents. In addition, RNLI lifeguards responded to 127 incidents of teenagers' tombstoning.

‘RNLI lifeguards past and present have kept millions of beach visitors safe over the past 20 years and will continue to do so for years to come. We would urge anyone planning a visit to the coast this summer to please remember to visit a lifeguarded beach and stay between the red and yellow flags.’

Lewis Timson was 18 years old when he made up part of a team of brand new RNLI lifeguards patrolling Newquay’s beaches in 2001. He is now an RNLI lifeguard supervisor looking after 10 beaches in the Newquay area. Before the RNLI, Lewis worked with the local surf school which would operate lifeguarding alongside teaching surf lessons. Lewis has worked overseas as well as on Cornish beaches. Asked whether lifeguarding had changed much over the past 20 years, he said:

‘The fundamentals are the same, we still need to be fit, well trained, capable and skilled lifeguards. But there has definitely been a shift with how we keep people safe. This has developed alongside the amount of people we now get visiting our beaches and going in the water. Lifeguarding now is such a proactive service and its essential that beach goers arm themselves with the knowledge needed to keep themselves safe while enjoying the coast.’

From beach safety and prevention to rescuing those in the water and delivering casualty care, RNLI lifeguards are prepared to deal with any situation they might face. But the team is urging anyone choosing to visit the region to make sure they keep themselves and their families safe by following beach safety advice:

  • Visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags -– find your nearest at
  • Check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage to understand local risks
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float.
  • In an emergency dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

You can keep up to date with relevant water safety advice on social media by searching #RespectTheWater so that you can an enjoyable and safe time at the coast.

Notes to editors

· * RNLI incident data from June to Sept 2020 made up of children aged under 13 (16 lives saved) and teenagers 13-19 years old (7 lives saved)

· **in 2001 RNLI lifeguards started lifeguard patrols on 15 beaches across the south west - Crantock, Fistral, South Fistral, Towan, Great Western, Porth, Mawgan Porth, Tolcarne, Watergate, Tregonhawke, Freathy, Sharrow, Tregantle, Greenhill and Weymouth

· Year on year the RNLI’s lifeguard service has grown through working with partners and now there are over 240 beaches across the UK and Ireland being patrolled. 90 of these beaches are in the south west.


RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Claire Fitzpatrick-Smith, Media Engagement Placement (Southwest) on [email protected] or 07472979209, or Amy Caldwell, Regional Media Manager on 07920818807 or [email protected]. Alternatively, please contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or [email protected].

Matt Keeble

RNLI lifeguards in the south west celebrate 20 years

Matt Keeble

RNLI lifeguards in the south west celebrate 20 years on the beaches and 1462 lives saved

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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

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.