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Hastings & St Leonards Azur Swimming Club (photo:John Graebe)

When can we take the plunge again?

A debate has been raging among sea swimmers as to whether it is permissible to take a swim in the sea as part of lockdown ‘exercise’. In view of warnings from the RNLI that resources to help people in trouble in the sea were much more limited as a result of the pandemic, many, or even most, decided that even with ‘social distancing’, swimming was a no no, writes Chris Cormack, but what of the prime minister’s latest roadmap?

As seasonal workers, many beach lifeguards from East Sussex have not been included in the furlough scheme. This means many are looking for work elsewhere. We are at risk of having lots of people visiting local beaches and no lifeguards. The beaches at Hastings, Bexhill and the notoriously dangerous Camber Sands are all at risk unless action is taken.

It turns out that Hastings Borough Council are sympathetic to the lifeguard’s cause. Council spokesman, Kevin Boorman, said:

“Sunday’s announcement from the prime minister on easing the Covid-19 lockdown allows unlimited exercise and, indeed, trips to open spaces, from Wednesday 13 May, so, on that basis, swimming is allowed.

“Our lifeguard season hasn’t started yet, irrespective of lockdown, but the RNLI have indicated that they are currently working on a plan to provide cover later in the summer, we are awaiting details on when this might be. We understand that their recruitment and training has been impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown, as has the almost complete cessation of long-distance travel (some of their lifeguards work in the winter in Australia, New Zealand, etc.).

“We are also very sympathetic to the plight of the RNLI lifeguards who fall outside the furlough scheme because they wouldn’t have been recruited by the required date in March. Many other seasonal workers are similarly affected, and we have made representations about this ourselves.”

The RNLI reports that there are presently no RNLI lifeguards on beaches. Although the RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews are fully operational, should they be needed, it is important that anyone visiting the coast understands the risk and takes the necessary steps to keep themselves safe. This will also help to reduce the demands placed on lifeboat crews and other emergency services including HM Coastguard. The RNLI urges anyone planning a visit to the coast to take the following safety advice:

  • Take care near cliffs – know your route and your limitations
  • Have a plan – check the weather forecast and tide times
  • 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
  • If individuals are choosing to go sailing or yachting it is important to ensure that equipment is properly checked and serviceable before going afloat.
  • In any coastal emergency dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.

Considering the potential demand on our beaches now lockdown is clearly lifted with regard to sea swimming, action to reinstate lifeguards as an essential emergency service is of prime importance. The UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group has been founded to raise awareness of the situation and the RNLI, unusually, has shared the campaign online. People are asked to sign this petition.

Swim England statement.

For those interested in sea swimming, while remaining socially distanced, the Azur swimming club is an all year round sea swimming club at the Azur next to groyne 41 St Leonards-on-Sea. There tend to be other swimmers in the vicinity every day at 12.30pm.

Posted 12:46 Wednesday, May 13, 2020 In: Lifestyle

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Chris Cormack

    Additional information provided by RNLI since this article was written:

    The RNLI normally patrols over 240 beaches around the coast, however, rollout of the normal seasonal lifeguard service was paused at the end of March due to the measures put in place by the UK Government to control the spread of Coronavirus.

    The charity is currently working with local authorities and beach owners in the hope that it can provide a lifeguard service on around 30% of the beaches the charity usually covers this summer. Re-establishing this infrastructure and distributing equipment to beaches will take time. We must also make sure that conditions are safe for our lifeguards to provide an effective service – our priority remains to be the safety of our people and the public.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 08:48

  2. kendal

    most of the swimmers around Hastings that swim at this time of year and earlier are
    1 – very careful,
    2 – well equipped
    3 – seasoned swimmers who are acclimatised to current sea temperatures
    4 – know the topography of the beaches
    5 – know the limits of exposure and danger signs to the body

    at this time of year, the major threat is the low temperature of the sea. what may be of concern is that when we get unusually good ambient temperatures and sunshine for this time of year, many more people feel like a dip or may venture further. it is good to keep in mind the sea warms gradually over the year, not according to the temperature of the day. but most people are perfectly capable of gauging their natural responses and only acclimatised swimmers are likely to venture any distance where potential dangers exist in deeper water. except of course for people boating, but even more safety precautions are connected with that activity.

    Comment by kendal — Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 07:47

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