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How we keep beaches safe

The beach is the perfect place for fresh air and family fun. But the sea is unpredictable and can take you by surprise. If you get into difficulty, who is there to help you?

RNLI Lifeguards running along the beach in Portrush

Photo: Pacemaker Press Intl

While most beachgoers will have an enjoyable and relaxing time, many will get into serious difficulties. And when something goes wrong, who can help?

RNLI lifeboat volunteers or search and rescue helicopter crews can respond to a situation within minutes and often save lives close to the shore. But, at the beach, every second counts.

Dedicated lifeguards

For the best chance of survival, you need someone on the beach who can see the dangers develop: someone who can prevent accidents before they happen and respond instantly if they occur.

In fact, the work of the RNLI lifeguard service begins before our lifeguards and the people they watch over even hit the beach. Every year, lifeguard-supported education programmes inform children and adults how to keep themselves safe at the beach ahead of, and throughout, the season. 

See the lifesaving difference our dedicated lifeguards and their proactive approach to beach safety made in 2023 by downloading the RNLI Lifeguards Report 2023 (PDF 16.7MB)

Lifesaving partnerships

The RNLI is proud to work in partnership with local authorities and beach owners to make our beaches safer for every one.

How do we do that?

RNLI lifeguards are qualified in lifesaving and casualty care, highly trained, strong and fit. They must be able to swim 200m in under 3½ minutes, and run 200m on sand in under 40 seconds. However, a good lifeguard rarely gets wet - 95% of a lifeguard's work is preventative.

RNLI lifeguards monitor sea conditions and set up the appropriate flags, watch the people on the beach and offer safety advice both on the beach and in classrooms through our education programmes.

All of our lifeguards are equipped not only with the best training but the best equipment, so that they are able to deal with any situation. This includes:

  • inshore rescue boat (IRB)
  • rescue watercraft (RWC)
    This is a modified personal watercraft, like a jetski, with a rescue sled, used for shallow waters and for getting to those in trouble close to shore quickly.
  • patrol vehicle
  • all-terrain vehicle (quadbike)
  • rescue board
  • rescue tube
  • VHF radio
  • binoculars
  • first aid responder bag
  • defibrillator.

The RNLI can provide the technical expertise to help beach operators carry out a thorough beach safety assessment and implement effective risk management strategies. The purpose of a beach safety assessment is to:

  • ensure that potential safety problems are properly understood
  • check whether existing control measures (including emergency plans) are adequate
  • determine what is necessary to reduce risks to a reasonable level
  • prioritise unacceptable risks identified by the assessment and determine further action.

The RNLI has developed a beach risk assessment model and a beach safety management model. Get in touch to find out more.

Signage is a simple way to present advice to beach visitors, but we believe there is room for improvement in the standard of signage on the UK's beaches.

Issues include:

  • differing signs from location to location
  • signs not conforming to an identifiable standard
  • confusion arising from information on signs 
  • signs not being understood by beach visitors.

What is needed is a signage programme that will:

  • reduce the potential of death by drowning
  • provide a cost-effective method of giving advice at a remote location
  • conform to relevant standards
  • reduce risk of litigation
  • communicate with beach visitors 
  • present the right information in a standard format.

A common standard will lead to improved understanding by the community and will make it easy to conduct effective education campaigns.  The RNLI's Guide to Beach Safety Signs, Flags and Symbols (PDF 13.2MB) has the endorsement of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and a number of other organisations with an interest in water safety, and can help to significantly improve beach safety around the coasts.

We are seeking support for the guide to be implemented as the accepted standard for beach safety signage in the UK. We can work with local operators, using the guide to help them implement their own beach signage plans.


Much of the public rescue equipment (PRE) found on UK beaches is not fit for purpose. In some cases, this has led to drownings.

The RNLI, in consultation with other water-related bodies, has produced the world's first coastal managers' guide to PRE. Previously, there were no UK standards to help coastal managers determine and manage their PRE requirements. 

Working with the University of Wales Institute and the University of Plymouth, a robust testing methodology was developed and implemented, with trials undertaken in a survival tank and in various coastal environments. 

More than 500 public trials took place to identify the most effective PRE. Research was also conducted on the following aspects of PRE: emergency communications, most suitable locations, maintenance, auditing tools and frequency of checks, signage, user-instruction information and ways to reduce vandalism and theft.

The 50-page publication, A Guide to Coastal Public Rescue Equipment, was launched in the UK in June 2007. Copies have now been distributed to all UK coastal managers and private beach owners. 


Good signage helps boaters make good decisions.

The RNLI's Guide to Slipway Safety Signs and Symbols (PDF 6.4MB) is aimed at those who have a responsibility for public safety signage at slipway locations. Using this guide, each slipway owner can assess their own hazards and signage requirements and then use the templates to create an effective and universally understood set of signs.

We believe that standardising slipway signs around the UK will help change boaters' attitudes and behaviours for the better.