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Lifting Restrictions Puts Us In Impossible Situation, Says RNLI Chief

27th May 2020
Lifeguard flags are currently absent from many UK beaches as the RNLI paused the rollout of its seasonal service Lifeguard flags are currently absent from many UK beaches as the RNLI paused the rollout of its seasonal service Photo: RNLI

The chief executive of the RNLI has said England’s lifting of coronavirus restrictions has put the lifesaving charity “in an impossible situation”.

It comes after a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK that saw two people die in separate incidents in Cornwall, as BBC News reports.

The RNLI paused the rollout of its seasonal lifeguard service at the end of March. As it explores plans to introduce a safe summer service, no beaches it usually covers are currently lifeguarded.

In an open letter released yesterday (Tuesday 26 May), Mark Dowie said “safety advice and warnings will only go so far when people are desperate to enjoy some freedom after weeks of lockdown”.

He added: “But, as a lifesaving charity, the RNLI cannot stop people going to beaches.

“Rolling out a lifeguard service – especially in a pandemic – is not as simple as putting a lifeguard on a beach.

“We found out about the easing of lockdown restrictions in England at the same time and in the same way as the general public.

“Contrast that with shops, which were given three weeks’ notice and even car showrooms have been given seven days’ warning to prepare.”

Dowie said proper training needs to be given and PPE sourced before lifeguard services can resume — and even at that, a reduced budget from the pause on fundraising activity means not all beaches will be covered even by peak season.

“No one is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in,” he said. “We’re asking everyone to help manage an impossible situation, so please follow our safety advice and think before you head to the coast.”

The full letter can be read below:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Despite our warnings that there were no lifeguards on patrol this weekend, crowded beaches, hot weather and big waves meant our lifeboat crews had their busiest weekend so far this year. At least two people lost their lives.

This puts the RNLI in an impossible situation. With thousands flocking to English beaches now lockdown restrictions have been eased, we must strike a balance that keeps the public and our lifeguards safe.

Safety advice and warnings will only go so far when people are desperate to enjoy some freedom after weeks of lockdown. But, as a lifesaving charity, the RNLI cannot stop people going to beaches.

Rolling out a lifeguard service – especially in a pandemic – is not as simple as putting a lifeguard on a beach. We found out about the easing of lockdown restrictions in England at the same time and in the same way as the general public. Contrast that with shops, which were given three weeks’ notice and even car showrooms have been given 7-days warning to prepare.

We have to work out how to do in-water rescues and give first aid – normally conducted at close quarters and often with people coughing up water. We have to find PPE that will work on a beach and in the water – visors and aprons are no good on a rescue board. And we have to train our lifeguards in procedures to reduce the risk of infection. All this takes time and we learnt of the lifting of restrictions at the same time as everyone else.

Lifesaving is our priority. But the fundamental sustainability of the charity is also a consideration. Local authorities contribute just 20% of the £20M needed to pay for a normal lifeguard season – the remaining £16M comes from RNLI donations. Right now, our charity faces an expected £45M shortfall in funding by the end of the year because many of our fundraising activities have had to stop.

No-one is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in. We’re asking everyone to help manage an impossible situation, so please follow our safety advice and think before you head to the coast.

Signed,

Mark Dowie

RNLI Chief Executive

Published in Water Safety
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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