Over 250,000 people go surfing in our waters every year. With so many beaches to explore, it’s no wonder we want to get out into the surf.
Surfer at Boscombe Beach, Bournemouth

Photo: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Surfer at Boscombe Beach, Bournemouth

This summer, there are fewer lifeguard patrols than normal. Please be careful when surfing, especially if there are no flags on the beach. For more information on how you can stay safe, visit our beach safety page.

Understand the risks and surf safely

Surfing hotspots can be a mass of bodies and boards when the sun is out and the surf is rolling.

Impacts between surfboards and other surfers can cause serious injuries and so being aware of others in the water and staying between the black and white flags is essential.

There were 8 surfing fatalities in UK waters between 2011 and 2015. Most surfers have a good understanding of the risks involved in their sport but more experienced surfers tend to push themselves in bigger surf and dangerous conditions. Those new to surfing can lack the experience to manage difficult conditions and surf outside lifeguarded areas.

Following some basic surfing etiquette and safety advice helps to make the surf a safer, friendlier and fun place for everyone.

Surfing safety checklist

Nine simple checks for safe surfing

  • Always surf between the black and white chequered flags
    Follow the advice of our lifeguards.

  • Surf with a mate
    Especially in a big swell. Surfers look out for one another.

  • Tell someone you’re going surfing
    Let someone know when and where you are going out and, importantly, when you expect to be back.

  • Check weather and tides
    Before you set out, check the local forecast for wind, swell and tide.

  • Know your limits
    It’s easy to be caught out. Don’t challenge yourself too early and know your limits.

  • Be aware of rip currents
    Speak to an RNLI lifeguard to get advice on the location of rip currents.

  • Always wear a leash
    So you don’t become separated from your board.

  • Wear the right wetsuit
    Wear an appropriate wetsuit for surfing. As well as keeping you warm, wetsuits give some added protection from scrapes on rocks or impacts from other surfboards.

  • Understand surf etiquette and rights of way
    Consider other surfers and water users. See some basic tips in our free download In the surf: your guide to surfsport safety (PDF).

Surfing safety: Useful links and resources

  • Surfing England
    Surfing Great Britain logo
    Safety advice
    Surfing England
  • RNLI Lifeguard and sponsored surfer Mark Harris (Egor) surfing at Fistral Beach, Newquay
    Download PDF 3.2MB
    In the surf: your guide to surfsport safety
  • RNLI Lifeguard and sponsored surfer Mark Harris (Egor) surfing at Fistral Beach, Newquay

    Download PDF 3.2MB

    On the coast: Your guide to staying safe on the beach and in the water

Figures taken from:

  • RNLI lifeboat return of service data UK and Ireland 2016.
  • RNLI lifeguard incident data, UK only, 2015.

Don’t be a statistic

8 uk surfing fatalities between 2011 and 2015

39 lifeboat launches to surfers in 2017

524 surfing incidents attended by lifeguards in 2017