Last weekend's sunshine weather made for a very busy time for Southend’s coastal services. With more than one young child reprted missing (happily to be safely reunited with parents) the lifeboats were put into service. The Southend RNLI lifeboat and hovercraft rescued several swimmers in danger of being cut off by the tide, and also went to the aid of a broken down cabin boat and brought ashore a thankfully empty inflatable spotted drifting close to the pier.
All this in a weekend's work for the RNLI and coastguards, ever alert and ready to leap to the rescue in any number of circumstances, all designed to ensure visitors to Southend have a safe and happy experience.
There are of course a number of precautions we should all take to avoid any unnecessary disasters.
1. Whether you are here in Southend or visiting other coastal resorts, always try and swim at a beach patrolled by lifeguards. Their skills and speed of reaction, together with their first aid skills, save hundreds of lives each year.
2. Read the information signs available at the beach, familiarise yourself with the area and agree a meeting point with group members, especially children, in the event that anyone gets lost or separated from the group.
3. Find the red-and-yellow flags and always swim between them. This is the safest part of the beach because it’s where the lifeguards patrol. Lifeguards will move the flags to adjust for changing conditions during the course of the day as rip currents and other dangers can come and go with the tide and varying weather conditions.
4. Unless you are an extremely strong swimmer and know the tides well, it is best not to swim alone, and if you do, make sure someone knows where you are swimming and how long you plan to be... and stick to it so as not to create unnecessary panic.
5. If you get into trouble in the sea, stick your hand in the air and shout for help.
6. If you see someone else in trouble, tell a lifeguard. If you can’t see a lifeguard, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
7. Inflatables are generally best kept for swimming pools. Never use inflatables in strong winds or rough seas as even a very slight breeze can sweep you out to sea very quickly. Even if there is no wind only use an inflatable between the red and yellow flags and make sure children are even more closely supervised.
8. Don’t go into the sea after drinking alcohol. Alcohol slows your reactions and can impair your ability to judge distances.
Know your flags
On beaches patrolled by lifeguards, different flags tell you where it’s safest to swim and which areas are designated for watersports.
The area between the red-and-yellow flags is patrolled by lifeguards. This is the safest place to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables
The area between black-and-white chequered flags is a designated area for watersports such as surfing and kayaking. Never swim or bodyboard here
The orange windsock means there are offshore winds. Never use an inflatable when you see the sock flying as the wind could push you offshore very quickly.
The red flag indicates that it is dangerous to swim or get in the water. Never go in the water when the red flag is flying.
Rips are strong currents that can quickly take swimmers from shallow water to water beyond their depth. Signs of a rip include: discoloured, brown water (caused by sand being stirred up from the seabed); foam on the water's surface and debris floating out to sea.
If you’re caught in a rip, the RNLI’s advice is:
Tides can come in surprisingly quickly. When you’re on the beach, keep a lookout for the tide’s direction and be aware of how fast the water’s coming in, especially if you’re playing in rock pools.
Watch out for waves, especially if you have small children. Even a small wave can knock a child over. Dumping waves are particularly dangerous. These waves break with great force in shallow water and occur during low tide.
Southend's Visitor Information Centre is at the Pier entrance and operates the SeaSmart scheme in co-operation with the coastguard. Children are given a free wristband that parents or carers can write their contact details on in case they become separated from you. The wristbands are water-proof and tear-proof and will need to be removed with scissors by an adult.
If you need emergency assistance on Southend beach or anywhere along the seafront dial 999 and ask for the coastguard from one of the 18 Yellow Emergency-only Telephones positioned along the seafront. If you need non-urgent assistance, Foreshore Inspectors can be found patrolling the beach areas and can provide information on Beach Safety through to First Aid advice. They can also be contacted on 01702 215620 (ext 83) in the event you are unable to locate a person.
First Aid Posts are located at Leigh- Bell Wharf, Marine Parade-Southend-on-Sea and Shoebury East Beach.
Let's hope this weather continues long into the summer and holiday months so we can safely enjoy being by the seaside!