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Swimming in the Sea

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 19 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Rip Currents Cramps Weather Tides

The clean and golden sands of the UK’s beaches have seen increasing visiting numbers year on year but with this has come an increase of incident, and greater need for understanding the dangers of swimming in the sea.

Keeping Beach Wise

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has created a campaign titled Beachwise, to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming off beaches not patrolled by lifeguards.

Statistics have shown that in the UK, sea swimmers are 500 times less likely to drown at a beach with lifeguards than one without. In the tourist season of 2007 RNLI lifeguards dealt with around 3,500 incidents. Sea swimmers should therefore always make an effort to swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.

Lifeguard Safety

Lifeguards are stationed on popular beaches to supervise a designated shoreline. Their warning flags are for the safety of the beach users and should be taken very seriously.

The red and yellow flags posted indicate that lifeguards are on duty and that it is safe to swim between the two flags. The red flag, on the other hand, means it is dangerous to swim, and everybody should stay away from the water, however experienced swimmers they may be. The quartered black and white flag indicates a zone reserved for watersports, and this area should be avoided by swimmers.

Swimmers in foreign waters might find there are variations to this flag warning system. For example a green flag may be used to indicate safe swimming and a yellow flag to warn beach users that the water is safe for paddling at the water’s edge but not swimming. The chequered flag may indicate the beach is temporarily unsupervised. Wherever the swimmer ends up however, the red flag will always denote danger.

FLAGS code

As way to keep safety awareness at the forefront of the mind, the RNLI have devised the catchy FLAGS code.
  • F – Find the red and yellow flags and swim between them.
  • L – Look at the safety signs.
  • A – Ask a lifeguard for advice.
  • G – Get a friend to swim with you.
  • S – Stick your hand up and shout for help if in difficulty.

Out of Season

Those hardy sea swimmers that swim all year round unfortunately cannot rely on lifeguard protection. May typically marks the beginning and September 30th the end of the tourist season, and as such lifeguards head home for winter and beach supervision is duly withdrawn.

The authorities do not understand why anybody would want to swim in cold out of season waters and so disassociate themselves from the responsibility of those that do. Unfortunately there many people that risk their lives by swimming out of season.

Pre-Swim Preparation

There are some general rules to consider before heading out for a swim in the sea.
  • Check the local weather and tides before leaving home.
  • Don’t eat or drink just before a swim as this may lead to cramps in the water.
  • Take a friend with you into the sea, especially if the beach is unsupervised.
  • Always plan to swim close to the beach in line with the shore.

Risks of Swimming in the Sea

Many of the hazards of the sea are invisible to the naked eye, such as rip currents and off shore winds.

Rip currents are narrow powerful channels of water flowing away from the shore. They are particular hazard because they can drag swimmers out the sea. The swimmer tries to fight the current and as a result becomes exhausted and vulnerable to drowning.

Beware of Surfing Spots

If a beach area is popular with surfers then it is likely unsuitable for swimmers. The strong swell and large waves that draw surfers to the shore are potentially dangerous for sea swimmers. Even the seemingly calmer waters between areas of surf are usually hiding dangerous rip currents.

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