The RNLI in Northern Ireland has reached 10 years of delivering a world class lifeguard service to coastal communities and their visitors along the Causeway Coast and in county Down. From this Saturday, 26 June, RNLI lifeguards will provide a full-time daily patrol on 11 beaches in what is anticipated to be one of the charity’s busiest seasons yet.
Since 2011, RNLI lifeguards have saved 48 lives in Northern Ireland. They have aided 3,701 people through water rescue, returning lost children and delivering first aid and casualty care. During that time, lifeguards have responded to 3,290 incidents and carried out over 1M preventative actions.
The RNLI introduced a lifeguard service on seven beaches along the Causeway Coast in 2011 at Downhill, Castlerock, Benone, Whiterocks, Portrush East, Portrush West and Portstewart. The service was extended to three beaches in county Down the following year at Cranfield, Tyrella and Murlough. And in 2017, RNLI lifeguards began a new patrol at Ballycastle.
As lifeguards complete intense inductions ahead of the eleventh full-time summer season getting underway this weekend, Michael Thompson, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager who himself is a former lifeguard and supervisor, paid tribute to the team: ‘Thanks to RNLI lifeguards our beaches are safer places, so we can enjoy our time at the coast and return home safely at the end of the day. Around 95% of a lifeguard’s work is in prevention. They keep beachgoers safe by educating them about water safety and spotting the dangers before accidents happen. RNLI lifeguards past and present have kept beach visitors safe over the past 10 years in Northern Ireland and will continue to do so for years to come. If you are planning a visit to the coast this summer, please remember to visit a lifeguarded beach.’
Karl O’Neill is a Lead Lifeguard Supervisor on the Causeway Coast and along with senior lifeguard Bosco McAuley, he was part of the first RNLI lifeguard team to patrol beaches in 2011. Karl is also a volunteer crew member at Portrush RNLI.
Reflecting on a decade of lifeguarding, Karl said: ‘The RNLI already had a strong history of providing a front-line emergency lifesaving service and were able to bring the knowledge and expertise over from the lifeboat service to the lifeguards. The equipment and the training from the RNLI really set the gold standard.
‘The fundamentals remain the same as when I started 10 years ago in that we still need to be highly trained, capable and skilled lifeguards on our beaches. But there has definitely been a shift with how we keep people safe. This has developed alongside the amount of people we now get visiting our beaches and going in the water. This year with Covid-19 restrictions and staycations on the rise, we believe we may already have experienced one of the busiest days in the 10-year history of lifeguarding here. Lifeguarding is such a proactive service now and with a busy summer anticipated, the team will be working hard to ensure visitors to our beaches can enjoy their day safely.’
For Portballintrae siblings Beth, Alex and Owen Montgomery who grew up beside the sea, lifesaving is in the blood. Beth was the first in the family to become a lifeguard in 2014 and as well as now being a senior lifeguard, she has performed a number of RNLI roles including that of Education Co-ordinator and Lifeguard Operations Assistant. Having inspired her younger sister and brother, Alex and Owen soon followed and are now preparing for their fifth season patrolling beaches between Portrush and Portstewart.
‘We grew up beside the beach and always enjoyed the outdoors,’ Beth explained. ‘We were swimmers from a young age and loved the sea, surfing and other water sports so when I finished school, I decided I wanted to find out more about joining the lifeguard team and Alex and Owen followed shortly after.
As RNLI lifeguards, we are all qualified in lifesaving and casualty care, are highly trained, strong and fit – we need to be able to swim 200m in under three and a half minutes and we need to run 200m on sand in under 40 seconds! However, a large part of our work is preventative. We monitor sea conditions and set up the appropriate flags at the start of the day and we watch people and offer safety advice both on the beach and in classrooms through our education programmes. It is a job we all love and we take great satisfaction from knowing we can play our part in helping visitors to our beaches enjoy their day safely.’
The RNLI is urging anyone choosing to visit the coast this summer to make sure they keep themselves and their families safe by following beach safety advice along with the government’s advice on travel and social distancing:
– Visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags -– find your nearest at rnli.org.uk/lifeguardedbeaches
– Check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage to understand local risks
– If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float.
– In an emergency dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
You can keep up to date with relevant water safety advice on social media by searching #RespectTheWater so that you can an enjoyable and safe time at the coast