Chris patrols three beaches in the north east of England – Seaburn, Cats and Dogs, and Roker. Beach lifeguarding is a hugely varied role. He can be treating someone for sunburn or a jelly fish sting one minute, running out to save someone from drowning the next.
Surprisingly perhaps, it’s not the variety that’s the main draw. It’s the pressure. ‘I love thinking on my feet,’ says Chris. ‘I thrive off any kind of pressure situation. If it goes well, I get an overwhelming satisfaction that I’ve done my job and helped save a life.’
A self-confessed ‘gym bunny’, Chris’s preoccupation during pre-season is to get fit. ‘At the start of the season I brush up on my swimming and board skills. As a senior lifeguard and training assessor I run weekly training sessions. We train for all kinds of incidents, and work on our fitness and team building throughout the season. It’s an opportunity to refresh my skills as well as train others.
‘The most important quality for a beach lifeguard after physical fitness is having pride in what you do. As an RNLI lifeguard you’re highly visible. You need to be a good ambassador.
‘Some days stand out. I remember training one of my lifeguards when I glanced up and saw a man catching his breath. I grabbed him just before he fell and laid him on the ground. Using my casualty care training, I checked his responsiveness then put him on oxygen. As he started to come round he joked: “I’m only doing it for attention, so I don’t have to go back home and do the gardening!” We phoned for his son who came down to help him into the car and get him home.’
Not all of Chris’s work is reactive. He helps our education volunteers teach children about water safety. ‘We run a programme called Hit the Surf,’ he says. ‘Schools come down to the Seaburn Centre in Sunderland where the kids can be a lifeguard for the day. They change into wetsuits, put on their Hit the Surf rash vests. We play different games, like ‘lifeguard says’, show them our rescue tubes and surfboards, and explain some of the techniques we use.
‘Mid to the end of July is our busiest period. Around 1M people attend the Sunderland Air Show over one weekend. There are lots of boats, and planes are told to land on the water in an emergency. It’s the one time we have to stop people going into the sea.’
Training is one of the most important things. We couldn’t do our job without it.