How to stay safe on Cornwall’s beaches this summer

With restrictions on foreign travel continuing, you may be one of the millions of people planning an escape to the seaside this summer. And what better way to celebrate the end (hopefully) of lockdown than a trip down to a holiday cottage in Cornwall – the perfect base to explore the coast and its stunning beaches. But before you check to see what facilities your chosen beach offers, spend a few moments considering your beach safety. Check out our handy round-up of how to stay safe on the sand and in the water this year.

With record numbers of staycationers hitting the beach, RNLI lifeguards face another busy season. In the south-west alone in 2020, they saved 56 lives, aided 9,179 people and responded to 6,287 incidents, which included water rescues, minor first aid and helping to reunite missing children with their families. ‘When lockdown restrictions eased, we saw people flock to the beaches to enjoy our coastlines. But that resulted in a huge number of people getting into difficulty around our coasts, with our lifesavers facing an incredibly busy summer,’ explains Gareth Morrison, RNLI Head of Water Safety. 

While most beachgoers will have an enjoyable and relaxing time, many will get into serious difficulties. So what can you do to keep yourself beach-safe?

Try to choose a lifeguarded beach

The RNLI’s lifeguard service has been running on some beaches since Easter and now more beaches will begin operations to reflect the increase in visitors and beach-users. The charity urges anyone planning to enter the water to always visit a lifeguarded beach during the operational hours of 10am-6pm, and to swim between the red and yellow flags. ‘It’s important to always plan ahead for your day at the beach and come prepared,’ says Kitty Norman, RNLI Water Safety Coordinator. ‘Speak to the RNLI lifeguards, who have a wealth of local knowledge and expertise. They will set up the beach according to the conditions and will always put the swim-zone (between the red and yellow flags) at the safest part of the water.’

Lifeguarded beaches in Cornwall are: Seaton, Poldhu Cove, Kennack, Gyllyngvase, Crantock, Great Western, Tolcarne, Porth, Portreath, Chapel Porth, St Agnes, Perran Sands, Holywell Bay, Godrevy, Gwithian South, Upton Towans, Beach View, Mexico Towans, Porthminster, Gwenver, Porthcurno, Porthcothan, Booby’s, Trevone, Trebarwith, Black Rock, Crooklets and Sandymouth. A list of RNLI lifeguarded beaches is also available at RNLI.org/beach.

Be aware of rip currents

The RNLI lifeguards have been busy training in casualty care and water-rescue skills, ready for the summer months ahead. Rip currents are a big danger on Cornwall’s beaches and are one of the most common incidents lifeguards deal with. Steve Instance, RNLI Water Safety Lead in the south-west, explains: ‘A rip current is a strong flow of water that can appear suddenly and quickly sweep bathers out of their depth, causing panic. It’s important to read any local signage about the location of rip currents and to understand that information. If you are ever unsure about rip currents and where they are located, you should always speak to the lifeguards.’

If you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, try to remember the following key safety advice:

  • Don’t try to swim against it, you will quickly get exhausted

  • If you can stand, wade, don’t swim

  • If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore

  • If you can’t swim – FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing

  • Always raise your hand and shout for help

  • If you see anyone else in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.

Don't get cut off by the tide

The UK and Ireland have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world and, because tide times and heights vary throughout the month, a beach that was clear yesterday at 5pm might be completely covered in sea at the same time today. If you’ve walked round to another cove at low tide, or walked around an outcrop of rocks, the water can soon block your way back as the tide turns – and if it doesn't have steps or access of its own, you could be in trouble. Before you head out, check the tide tables. While you're out, be aware of your surroundings and the tide's direction. You can find out more information about tides in your area through tide tables, apps, weather news or local websites. You can also get local tidal information from the Harbour Master, tourist information centre and some seaside retail outlets.

Stay safe on the beach

Before you head out, plan your day: check the weather forecast and tide times. Pack sun hats, sun lotion, plenty of water and snacks, and some shade. When you get to the beach, read the hazard signs, particularly if there are no lifeguards. Watch out for sharp objects and litter hidden in the sand, slippery rocks, big drops from cliffs and harbour walls, and unstable cliffs. If it’s crowded, agree on a meeting point in case of separation. Keep an eye on each other and don’t swim alone. And, as much fun as inflatables are, offshore winds mean you could get blown out to sea, so leave them at home.

Things to watch out for in the water

Watersports like surfing, bodyboarding and SUPing are fun, but only go out if you are really confident in your abilities or with a trained instructor or guide. When paddling in the shallows, wear wetsuit boots or jelly shoes to prevent a weeverfish sting. Weeverfish are plain-looking fish that sometimes nestle in the sand, in water just a few centimetres deep, which will raise a sharp spine on its back in self defence if trodden on. Lifeguards will treat your sting for you by placing your foot in very hot water. Watch out for jellyfish, which can also give a nasty sting and report them to a lifeguard if you spot one. Be aware of man-made structures like piers and groynes, and watch out for other water users, such as surfers and powerboats.


To support the RNLI’s lifesavers, go to: www.rnli.org/donate