RNLI lifeguards rescue over 320,000 people in two decades of patrolling beaches

Lifeguards News Release

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has reached 20 years of delivering a world class lifeguard service to coastal communities and their visitors around the UK and Ireland.

Since 2001, RNLI lifeguards have saved 1,681 lives, aided 320,087 people through water rescue, returning lost children and delivering first aid and casualty care. They have responded to 251,436 incidents and carried out 32M preventative actions.

Back in 2001, the charity took action when stark figures showed 200 lives were lost on UK beaches. Lifesaving clubs were already patrolling but not on the scale required, the RNLI wanted to provide a solution and established a co-ordinated rescue service. Working with lifesaving clubs and beach owners, the RNLI piloted lifeguarded beaches in south-west England and 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. 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.

Robbie Warrington, RNLI Head of Lifeguard Services, said:

‘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.

‘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. If you are planning a visit to the coast this summer, please remember to visit a lifeguarded beach.’

Lewis Timson is a Lifeguard Supervisor in Newquay and was part of the first RNLI lifeguards to be on beaches in 2001 when he was 18-years-old. Before the RNLI, Lewis was part of the local surf school which would operate lifeguarding alongside teaching surf lessons.

Lewis said:

‘The RNLI already had a strong, 180-year history of providing a front-line emergency lifesaving service and were able to bring the knowledge and expertise over from the lifeboat service to the lifeguards. The equipment and the training from the RNLI really set the gold-standard. As soon as I was working for the RNLI I knew that it was what I wanted to do.

Lewis has worked overseas as well as on Cornish beaches and when asked whether lifeguarding had changed over the past 20 years, he continued:

‘The fundamentals are the same, we still need to be well trained, capable, skilled lifeguards on our beaches. 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. Being proactive is the standard and the new ‘normal’.

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. In 2009, RNLI lifeguards responded after being alerted to a couple caught by the tide and clinging to rocks at a secluded cove near Chapel Porth Beach, St Agnes. Little did the lifeguards know that the woman was 35 weeks pregnant.

Vicky Murphy recalls what happened that day:

‘At first the water was only ankle deep, then it was at our knees. Then our shoulders – then our heads. I had no idea how we were going to get out and I didn’t think me or my partner Marc were going to make it - we said our goodbyes to each other.

‘The relief of seeing the lifeguards coming around the corner still gets me emotional to this day. I can’t thank the RNLI enough for saving me. I’m in awe of their bravery – they are the reason I have my family today.’

Vicky’s baby Rae was born a couple of weeks later and is 12-years-old now with two younger brothers. The Murphy family wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for RNLI lifeguards, like many families who have been rescued over the past 20 years.

The RNLI is urging anyone choosing to visit the coast to make sure they keep themselves and their families safe by following beach safety advice along with the government’s advice on travel and social distancing:

  • Visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags -– find your nearest at rnli.org.uk/lifeguardedbeaches
  • 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


RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Oliver Wrynne-Simpson, RNLI National Media Manager on 077951 27351 or oliver_wrynne-simpson@rnli.org.uk or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Notes to editor:

Interviews available with the following people:

Lewis Timson

Lewis began working as a private lifeguard at Watergate Bay and joined the RNLI after its pilot year in 2001. Since then his siblings Harry, Georgia and Sonny have all followed and become RNLI lifeguards.

Chris Lewis

Chris is the first RNLI lifeguard to be awarded a Queen’s Honour when he was on the New Year’s list in 2017. Chris is one of the longest serving lifeguards in the UK, having dedicated 55 years of voluntary lifesaving to the community of Poole and Bournemouth as part of the RLSS and RNLI. Chris who is still saving lives at sea at the age of 71 has been recognised with an MBE.

Greg Spray

Greg started as lifeguard in Cornwall during the 70s living back and forth between the UK and Australia. Greg was a part of the RNLI from the start and has always been involved with the lifeguard service. Greg still lifeguards on the beaches today and is based in the Newquay area.

Simon Crayford

Simon joined the RNLI in 2003, having come over on an exchange programme from Northern Sydney. He did many years of lifeguarding back-to-back summers between the UK and Australia. Simon now works in the regional RNLI team.

Sophie Grant-Crookston

Became the first female lifeguard to be awarded the Bronze Medal for Gallantry when she saved the life of a surfer off Perranporth beach in 2006.

Vicky Murphy

Rescued in 2009 with her partner Marc when she was 35 weeks pregnant at Chapel Porth beach. Vicky and Marc were cut off by the tide and had to clamber onto rocks to attempt to find safety. They were rescued by lifeguards and their lives saved, a couple of weeks later their daughter Rae was born.

Ella Baston

Ella aged 23-years-old was rescued by Porthcothan lifeguards on Friday 28 May 2021 after getting into trouble while surfing. Ella and her 4 friends were pulled into a rip current and were struggling close to rocks. RNLI lifeguard attended and managed to tow Ella onto the rocks where a rescue helicopter winched her to safety.

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Perranporth RNLI lifeguards in 2014


RNLI lifeguard training at Bournemouth in 2021


Bournemouth RNLI lifeguard Chris Lewis


Bronze Medal Awardee Sophie Grant-Crookston


Vicky Murphy and her family at Chapel Porth beach

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.