RNLI chief calls for beach ban and hits out at PM over 'impossible situation' for lifeguards

26 May 2020, 16:25

Lifeguards are currently not on duty on beaches across the UK
Lifeguards are currently not on duty on beaches across the UK. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

The RNLI rescue charity has written an open letter calling on the Government to restrict Brits from beaches after a double bank holiday tragedy.

Mark Dowie, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s chief executive, said Boris Johnson’s loosening of lockdown rules had put lifeguards in an “impossible situation”.

The plea comes after police confirmed a 17-year-old girl and a man died on the same stretch of Cornish coastline on Monday afternoon.

Crowded scenes were pictured on beaches across England at the weekend as tourists flocked to bask in scorching bank holiday temperatures - but currently none are patrolled by lifeguards.

“Safety advice and warnings will only go so far when people are desperate to enjoy some freedom after weeks of lockdown,” Mr Dowie wrote to the PM.

“As a lifesaving charity, the RNLI cannot stop people going to beaches – but the government can – before more lives are lost around our coast this summer.”

Bournemouth beach was packed over the weekend
Bournemouth beach was packed over the weekend. Picture: PA
There have been complaints that some did not adhere to social distancing at Durdle Door in Dorset
There have been complaints that some did not adhere to social distancing at Durdle Door in Dorset. Picture: Getty

He added: “So, we’re asking for help to manage an impossible situation – we’re asking the public to heed our safety advice and we’re asking the government to restrict access to the coast until we have lifeguard patrols back on beaches.

“Only then can we keep the public safe from the sea and our lifeguards safe from the virus.”

In the first tragedy on Monday, police scrambled to reports of an upturned inflatable boat offshore near Porthilly Rock, Wadebridge, at 2.25pm.

Three people were taken to hospital and 17-year-old girl was later pronounced dead.

About five minutes later, emergency crews rushed to Treyarnon Bay, Padstow, after a man was pulled from the water unresponsive by a member of the public.

He was pronounced dead at the scene and is yet to be identified.

Ch Insp Ian Thompson, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said on Monday: "These are extremely upsetting circumstances and our thoughts go out to all involved. It has been a very tough day for local emergency services."

The RNLI suspended its patrols which cover 240 beaches in March amid the pandemic and said it heard that Mr Johnson had let daytrippers visit beauty spots again earlier this month “at the same time and in the same way as the general public”.

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Under the new rules, which only cover England, people can visit beauty spots but have to follow social distancing.

The charity is planning to restart some patrols at beaches from this weekend after the tragedies.

Mr Dowie added in his letter: “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.”

The RNLI has warned it faces a £45 million shortfall in funding by the end of the year due to the axing of fundraising events.