'Float to live: Lytham and Fleetwood Coastguards' lifesaving advice for beach visitors on World Drowning Prevention Day

Coastguard crews serving the Fylde coast have provided safety guidance for those visiting the beach for World Drowning Prevention Day (Saturday July 24).

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 4:55 am

"Around half of those who drown each year, never intended to be in the water."

This slogan circulating on social media by rescuers at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) charity sums up many of the incidents happening on Fylde coast beaches, particularly in summer.

RNLI teams work alongside HM Coastguard - both of which are run by volunteers who are not paid for their time - but nevertheless give their time up around the clock, all year, to save lives.

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Fleetwood coastguard station officer Mark Sumner provides lifesaving advice for anyone caught out in open water. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media

Rescue missions often turn into multi-agency operations, requiring teamwork between RNLI and coastguard volunteers, police, Blackpool beach patrol and paramedics.

They work together to reunite missing children with scared parents, respond to concern for welfare calls, warn people looking longingly into the sunset at the water's edge about rising tides, and rescue people who find themselves too far out to sea.

But despite their heroic work, sometimes the dangers of the sea prevail.

Saturday July 24 is World Drowning Prevention Day, a global advocacy event which aims to highlight the "tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities" and offer life-saving solutions to prevent it.

Fleetwood RNLI crew member Gavin Burke and Fleetwood coastguard station officer Mark Sumner. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media

An estimated 236,000 people drown every year, and drowning is among the ten leading causes of death for children and young people aged 1-24 years.

Mark Sumner, station officer at Fleetwood Coastguard, was called out to an incident at Rossall Beach on Saturday, July 17, which tragically resulted in the drowning of a 29-year-old holidaymaker, thought to be from Bolton.

And on August 15 last year, station officer at Lytham Coastguard, Paul Little, was called out to find two brothers at St Annes - Muhammad Azhar Shabbir, 18, and Ali Athar Shabbir, 16.

The brothers drowned after being caught up to their chests in the rapidly-rising tide near St Annes pier, the court heard at their inquest.

Float to live: Put your arms and legs out, float on the surface and try to regulate your breathing. Wave your arm to signal for help. Pic: Dan Martino/JPI Media

Mr Sumner and his crew at Fleetwood are called out year-round to incidents spanning the length of the coast from Fleetwood to Gynn Square, whereas Mr Little and his team at Lytham take over from Gynn up to Lytham.

During this month alone, Fleetwood coastguard has been called out to 44 incidents.

Around 11 of those callouts were to people reported to be in difficulty in the water, amounting to around 20 people in total.

The remainder of the call-outs were to people cut-off by the tide - a total of around 200 people.

Being cut off by the tide is a common, but easily preventable occurrence, Mr Sumner said, and warned beach-goers to keep an eye on the tide coming in behind them.

"Myself and Paul tend to deal with slightly different issues at our different ends of the Fylde coast, his team is more likely to deal with missing children and people getting into trouble in the water, but we do still get them.

"We've got two miles of sand banks at the top of Fleetwood, so we get quite a lot of people going for a long walk, walking out and getting cut off.

"We've got a triple whammy really at the moment - good weather, summer holidays, and the biggest change this year is people can't go on holidays as much. They would normally be going to the Mediterranean where the tide only comes in a few metres and only rises around a metre.

"But here we've got ten and a half metres of rising tide and fast-flowing water, and everybody we speak to says they didn't realise the tide comes in so fast. And that's the biggest change here - it's the perfect storm."

Adam Diver, an open water sea swimmer, Maritime lecturer at Fleetwood Nautical campus and member of Fleetwood Community Triathlon Club, said there were myriad factors to take into consideration before anyone should be entering the sea - even if the tide is out.

"Make sure you tell someone you're going into the sea, and take a buddy with you so they can help you out, that's absolutely key," Mr Diver said.

"Speak to either the coastguard or Rossall Point to understand the currents if you're not familiar with the surroundings. In terms of equipment, you should wear a wetsuit and gloves and booties because obviously it's cold.

"It's definitely worth getting a tow float - that's to help people recognise you're in the water, especially jet skis which there are quite a few of in Fleetwood now. You can also use it to help yourself if you get a little bit tired, or your friend gets tired they can hold onto it as well. You can also wear a fluorescent hat which helps people see you too.

"The beaches are shared, so watch out for fishing lines, and it's also weather dependent - if it's windy or the waves are high then obviously you're not going to go in."

For Lytham coastguard, callouts are on the rise this year.

Cases are recorded each year, and the 17-year average for July is 26 incidents - but the crew has already been called out 35 times before August has begun.

Station officer Paul Little said on top of dealing with missing children incidents, more and more people seem to be getting cut off by the rising tides.

"One of the things we've been experiencing recently is the way the tides are coming in at the moment," he said.

"Late in the afternoon, we're getting people being cut off predominantly between 5 and 8pm this week. There'll be people looking at to sea at the sunset and the tide is filling up behind them.

"So they end up on a little island, and then they're having to wade through the sea - sometimes up to the waist, carrying children and trying to keep their clothes and their phones dry.

"What we would say is we want people to be aware of where they are and keep looking behind them. If you're at the edge of the sea, there is a likelihood you'll end up getting cut off. Anywhere from the sandcastle all the way up to Fleetwood, it's not just in one spot."

Volunteers the length and breadth of the Fylde coast are also giving up their time at weekends to help Blackpool police with missing children reports - via a multi-agency operation called Operation Nemo.

You can read more about Operation Nemo here. Both station officers issued safety advice for anyone finding themselves caught out in open water.

"Float like a starfish, try to lie flat on the surface and raise your arm to get someone's attention," Mark at Fleetwood coastguard said.

"You only have to go out to chest height and the water will be much colder than your body temperature when it's hot outside. When this happens the body goes into panic, your heart starts racing and your breathing becomes irregular, it's an uncontrollable response.

"Don't try to swim. Wave your arms, shout, do whatever you need to do, but don't try to swim. If you try to swim, your muscles are pumping away, your heart's beating and you're breathing fast, which puts you at a much higher risk of drowning."

Paul at Lytham coastguard added: "Alcohol and water definitely don't mix. Don't go anywhere near the sea when you've had a drink."

Blackpool Vic's A and E department also issued safety advice for anyone who witnesses someone in trouble in the water.

It said: "Watch the person in the water to keep an eye on their location.

"Ask someone to call 999.

"Throw a life ring or flotation device if you can.

"Encourage the person to flat and gently move their arms and legs to stay afloat.

"Resist entering the water yourself, as you may get in danger too."

A spokesman for Blackpool Council added: "The hot weather has brought thousands of people to the beach over the last week. Operation Nemo is working well at the weekends but we are still regularly receiving reports of lost children. It is so important that adults keep a close eye on the children they are responsible for.

“It is perfect weather to spend a day cooling off at the seaside and by following simple safety advice makes it an enjoyable day out for everyone.”

If you witness someone in trouble in the sea while visiting Fylde coast beaches, ring 999 and ask for the coastguard.

Make use of Operation Nemo if visiting the beach between North and South piers. You will find volunteers handing out wristbands on the promenade between the piers, for you to add your contact details to in order to ensure any missing children are found quickly.

Weekend tide times:

Saturday:

Low 06:21

High 12:00

Low 18:41

Sunday:

High 00:17

Low 07:11

High 12:48

Low 19:26