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Home | News | How to stay safe and have fun at the Coast

Beach Safety Tips – How to stay safe and have fun at the Coast – Don’t get carried away!

Heading to the beach is one of our favourite things to do at Byron but the sea can be a dangerous place if not respected, to keep you and your family safe on your coastal holiday follow our top beach safety tips as recommended by the RNLI!

 1 – Choose a lifeguarded beach!

The RNLI lifeguards patrol 245 beaches across the UK and Channel Islands. In 2021 they aided over 40,000 people on the beach! Choosing a lifeguarded beach can give you and your family extra safety in a potentially dangerous environment as they seek to prevent accidents and respond to difficulties before they become dangerous.

Guide to lifeguarded beaches

2 – Know your beach flags!

Around the coast, you will see these safety flags on the beaches make sure you know what they mean.

  • Red and Yellow flags – This is a lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.
  • Black and white chequered flags – For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kite surfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard here.
  • Red Flag – Danger! Never go into the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.
  • Orange windsock – Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.

Keep in the know! Learners should not kitesurf, windsurf or use stand-up paddle boards when the wind is blowing offshore.

3 – In the water

  • Rip currents

Did you know in the UK, most RNLI Lifeguard incidents involve rip currents? They are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches across the world.

Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can quickly drag people and debris away from the shoreline and out to deeper water.

Rip currents are especially powerful in larger surf which can be found on beaches such as Woolacombe.

Infographic of beach safety tips showing what to do if caught in a rip current
  • What does a Rip current look like?

Rip currents are tricky to spot, but are sometimes identified by a channel of churning, choppy water on the sea’s surface.

Even the most experienced sea gurus can be caught out by rips, so be sure to ask lifeguards for advice. They will show you how you can identify and avoid rips.

To help avoid getting caught out by Rip currents, firstly make sure your choose a lifeguarded beach such as Woolacombe (remember to check the Guide to lifeguarded beachesalways swim between the red and yellow flags, which have been marked based on where is safer to swim in the current conditions. This also helps the RNLI lifeguards spot you more easily, should something go wrong.

  • What to do if you get caught in a Rip current

– Do not swim against it! The current will be too strong, and you will become too tired.
– If you can stand then do, try to wade rather than swim.
– If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head back for shore.
– Always raise your hand and shout for help.

– If you have an inflatable keep hold of it to help you float

– Stay calm – try not to panic

  • What to do if you see anyone else in trouble?

Alert the lifeguards or call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.

  • Cold water shock

Did you know anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and can affect your breathing and movement, the average UK and Ireland sea temperatures is just 12°C so the risk of cold-water shock is significant most of the year.

Why is cold water shock so dangerous?

Beach safety infographic show what to do if you experience cold water shock

When the body is suddenly put in contact with cold water it experiences several physiological responses that can rapidly incapacitate and even kill. The sudden lowering of skin temperature is one of the most profound stimuli that the body can encounter.

The biggest danger is inhaling water and drowning, even if the water is calm and you know how to swim Cold Water Shock can cause an immediate loss of breathing control.

What can happen

  • Cold water shock can cause you to inhale as you go under the water, due to an involuntary gasping reflex, and drown without coming back to the surface 
  • drastically reduce your ability to hold your breath underwater, typically from a minute or so to less than 10 seconds
  • induce vertigo as your ears are exposed to cold water, resulting in failure to differentiate between up and down

How to reduce the risk of cold-water risk

As the UK is deemed as cold water throughout the year it is important to think about what swimwear you will wear to protect yourself from the cold. A wet suit will provide additional protection, particularly in very cold water.

  • Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.
  • Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float. Knowing how to float in an emergency could save your life!
  • Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.
  • Check water conditions – before heading to the coast. Visit for full surf reports in the UK.
  • Wear a wetsuit of appropriate thickness for the amount of time you plan to spend in the water and the type of activity you’re doing, if entering.
  • Wear a flotation device. It greatly increases your chances of making it through the initial shock.
RNLI poster saying float for you life, a beach safety tip for surviving cold water shock

4-  On the beach

  • Tide times

The beach is the ultimate playground, but the tide can come in surprisingly quickly, particularly around Spring and can leave people cut off by the rising water. To prevent this from becoming you ensure you have local tide times from the Harbourmaster or Tourist information centre or visit the Met office tide times remember to keep an eye on the direction of the tide from the beach and always more back if in doubt!

  • Sunburn

We have all done it, got to the beach and thought we would be ‘ok’ without a bit of sunscreen, but Sunburn can really ruin your holiday and lead to sunstroke which is dangerous, particularly in the elderly and children.

Protect yourself by using a high-factor sunscreen 40+ for young children. It is a good idea to take a sunhat with you particularly during the hottest part of the day as there is no shade on the beach!

Fluid is vital and, in any weather, we suggest taking either a flask or a reusable bottle for your water with you to the beach – stay hydrated and plastic-free on your trip!

  • Don’t leave a trace

By taking care of our beaches, we help the health of our oceans, and marine life, promote positive tourism, and sustain a clean and safe environment for all to enjoy! Make sure you plan your beach trip, bring everything you need with you and take everything you brought home!

Lots of rubbish ends up washed along the coastline, pick up and dispose of any pieces you find as eventually, it ends up in the food chain.

Remember to recycle when possible and take nothing but memories and photographs with you!

5- Donate to the ilfracombe lifeboat branch

Ilfracombe Fundraising Branch covers the North Devon coastal area. Their volunteer fundraisers help to provide the funding to support the work of our volunteer lifeboat crews who are available 24/7 for anyone who needs their help. The Ilfracombe Fundraising Branch is linked to Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station.

Keeping a modern fleet of lifeboats maintained, fuelled and ever ready to go to the rescue from all 33 South West lifeboat stations is expensive and relies entirely on voluntary donations to ensure this service is maintained. Add to that crew training and kit, and the pounds start to add up.

It costs an average of £158k to Run lifeboat stations in the South West. They rely on donations from you the public to continue saving lives at sea – your donation to this page will help support the running costs of stations in the South West including our lifeboats based in Ilfracombe and their volunteer crew.

We are very proud to volunteer and serve the community in Ilfracombe. We need your support to help keep saving lives. Thank you.”

Moving a lifeboat at night

6- caring for local marine life

From time to time in these beautiful natural surroundings, you may come across an injured or beached habitant and in this circumstance, it is important you know what to do to create the best case scenario for the animal’s health and safety and for your own.

Natural instinct may want you to pick up and rescue the animal your self but this is not always the best solution and can often lead to worsening an injury or causing shock often leading to the animal’s death despite your good intentions. For instance, most advice from organisations working with marine life says that if you find an injured animal do not approach it and keep any dogs and children away, call one of the listed hotlines and they will give the best advice as to what to do, and how they will assist and attend the location if needed.

There are a host of North Devon-based charities that work specifically with our local marine life to rescue stranded, injured, beached and dead marine life, birds and small mammals. They work tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of these protected species are cared for.

Please refer to the below-listed organizations if you find an injured animal along our coastline.

For stranded live or dead dolphin, porpoise, whale, turtle or basking shark please call the CSIP on 0800 6520 333  (they often investigate deaths of marine life)

For seals please contact British Divers Marine Life Rescue (seals, dolphins, whales, porpoises, turtles etc) 01825 765546

For dead wild birds contact Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) – particularly in case of Avian Flu

For injured wild animals – birds, and small mammals, call the North Devon Animal ambulance – 07817 995751

the best luxury self-catering beachside apartments in North Devon!

From bed to beach in less than 4 minutes, you can book a stay in one of our luxury apartments in North Devon to make sure you are never far from the golden sands and crystal blue waters.

Byron Woolacombe Holidays, launched in July 2019, is an independent holiday letting agency designed specifically for Byron Woolacombe Holiday Apartments.

We aim to provide the highest standard of luxury self-catering accommodation and facilities in Woolacombe.

The apartments all have access to exclusive communal leisure facilities, such as indoor pool, sauna and games room.

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