New watch station opened as emergency services prepare for manic summer
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
A new watch station designed to help keep an eye on beachgoers at risk of getting cut off by the tide is just one of the ways the emergency services are gearing up for what is set to be a hectic summer.
The RNLI and HM Coastguard are bracing themselves for one of their most demanding summers seasons to date, as research carried out by the organisations suggests 30 million people plan to visit the coast between now and September.
Ahead of the rush, the RNLI and Coastguard are urging people to choose lifeguarded beaches, not use inflatables, and pay attention to the tides.
The warning comes after summer last year saw a spike in callouts for lifeboat teams and coastguards when a combination of relaxed restrictions and heatwaves meant people flocked to the coast.
And while North Norfolk boasts some of the most picturesque beaches in the country, the coastline is not without its hazards.
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In Brancaster, a new National Coastwatch Institute (NCI) mobile unit has been installed near the entrance to the beach to keep a watchful eye over the coast, offer tidal advice to beachgoers and help the RNLI and Coastguard in the event of an incident.
Last year, RNLI Wells was called out 36 times to help people cut off by the tide, up from 24 in 2019, and there have already been rescues from Scolt Head, which is a hot spot for strandings, this year.
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Nick Ayers, the RNLI’s regional water safety lead, said "extensive tidal ranges" combined with channels and sand bars between Hunstanton, Brancaster and Wells in the North Norfolk Coast meant people could easily become cut off.
He said: "If someone is walking out to a place at low tide, the water can fill pools and channels and cuts people off and a clear example of that is Brancaster."
Mr Ayers added: "We want people to enjoy the coast but urge everyone to respect the water, think about their own safety and know what to do in an emergency.
"Our main advice is to visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags. Coastal areas provide a great opportunity to enjoy fresh air and open space but they can be an unpredictable and dangerous environment, particularly during early summer when air temperatures start warming up but water temperatures remain dangerously cold, increasing the risk of cold water shock."
Claire Hughes, director of HM Coastguard, said: "2020 was an exceptionally busy year and we’re expecting more people to take their holidays around our wonderful coasts this summer."
She said the organisation was asking everyone to follow a few simple safety tips such as checking the weather, tides and leaving inflatables at home, so the trips to the coast were "memorable for all the right reasons."
Ms Hughes said: "Recreational watersports such as paddle boarding are now incredibly popular and we’d encourage everyone to make it a fun rather than frightening experience. It pays to prepare and taking a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch when you set out for a paddle will mean you can call for help if needed.
"If you or someone else is in trouble, always call 999 and ask for the Coastguard," she said.
Inland the police have also said they are preparing for a busy summer and have been working with local partners to ensure it has "the plans and resources in place to keep everyone safe."
Matthew Dyson, chief inspector for North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth police, said: "As with any locally significant event or period, we will allocate additional support from officers across the county where needed, alongside welcoming the skills of our special constables and police volunteers.
"We will also continue working closely with the North Norfolk District county COVID support officers to provide advice to businesses as national restrictions change.
“A collaborative approach with local partners is key to ensuring we can all experience a summer with more freedom. Local authorities will continue to manage issues of parking, but where this becomes dangerous or causes a serious obstruction, we would offer additional support. "
In North Norfolk, Cromer East and West beaches, East Runton, West Runton, Mundesley, Sheringham East and West beaches, Wells-next-Sea and Sea Palling beaches all have lifeguards.
A full list of RNLI lifeguarded beaches can be found at rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeguarded-beaches
What happened last year?
A combination of warm weather and an easing of restrictions saw thousands of people flock to Norfolk’s coastline and waterways last summer but the increased numbers also saw a spike in emergency call-outs.
By the end of the summer period the RNLI had reported a 50pc increase in call-outs in North Norfolk and re-iterated safety advice around inflatables, tidal changes and cold-water shock.
On one day in May 2020, 19 people, including children, had to be rescued after they were cut off by the tide and found themselves stranded on Scolt Head island.
In June lifeboat volunteers were called to three incidents off the Hunstanton coast, involving a person who had fallen from an inflatable and reports that a child in an inflatable had drifted out to sea off Brancaster Golf Club.
And in August a woman in her 30s died after she got into difficulty in the water at Waxham beach.