Just two Thanet beaches out of the usual 10 will have lifeguard cover this Summer.
Lifeguards are due to start covering Viking Bay from May 30, dependent on the arrival of personal protective equipment, with Margate following on June 20.
But Ramsgate, Botany Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay, Westbrook, St Mildred’s, West Bay and Minnis Bay beaches will have no cover under the current arrangements.
This is despite the relaxation of lockdown rules which means people are now free to visit beaches, amongst other open areas, for as long as they want and are able to travel to do so.
The issue was highlighted by The Isle of Thanet News at the beginning of this month when the newly formed UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group warned the UK’s 240 patrolled beaches could be left unprotected unless the government included beach lifeguards in its job retention scheme.
Lifeguards who would usually be patrolling beaches across the county this summer said they would be forced to find work elsewhere because they were not eligible for furlough payments – meaning they will not be able to take up posts when lockdown restrictions eased and the public begin to flock to the coast.
The lack of furlough inclusion meant vital recruitment and training did not take place after operations were halted on March 23 due to the restrictions on public life
More than 600 professional lifeguards came together as the UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group to launch a campaign called Return to Shore to petition the government to tackle the problem.
This was declined with the Treasury saying any lifeguards impacted financially due to the pandemic should apply for Universal Credit.
The RNLI, which launched its beach safety campaign last week, said with changes to the lockdown restrictions, it has been looking at plans to resume a lifeguard service where possible.
But this will still only mean lifeguard patrols on around 70 of the UK’s 240 patrolled beaches by peak season.
Beaches have been chosen based on risk and popularity.
Stuart Cattell, the Thanet and Swale representative for the UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group, said: “We will see a reduced lifeguard service this year on our beaches in Thanet which is a worrying factor, especially with how busy they’ve been in recent days and, with the water slowly warming up, it will only get worse.”
He says he hopes whatever the service may look like this year it will be comprehensive, effective and above all safe for the lifeguards to be working in.
County councillor Karen Constantine said: “We are very fortunate to live in this beautiful coastal area. For many people who live in Thanet visiting the beach is a regular event, as is sea swimming. During ‘lockdown’, I would like to see very clear messages from Thanet District Council for visitors from outside the area to ‘stay away’ from our coastal.
“However I’m very surprised that a decision to reinstate lifeguards has seen Ramsgate excluded. Ramsgate is a very busy beach and actually has, on occasions a powerful undertow. So lifeguards are as necessary here as anywhere else on Thanet. I hope TDC will recognise the need and ensure safety for everyone whether they are paddlers, swimmers or surfers.”
The lack of lifeguards may also impact on Blue Flag and Seaside Award status as safety is one of the conditions of those awards. Major non-compliance occurs when the beach does not comply with one or several criteria, with consequence for the health and safety of the beach user or to the environment. It could result in the flag being withdrawn immediately and for the rest of the season.
In Swale the council is trying to recruit lifeguards so the RNLI will provide cover for one and council paid lifeguards will patrol its other two beaches.
With beach lifeguard patrols significantly reduced the RNLI and HM Coastguard are advising the public not to use inflatables at all and for everyone, especially parents, planning a visit to a beach or the coast to follow this safety advice:
- Have a plan – check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage
- Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water
- Don’t allow your family to swim alone
- Don’t use inflatables
- 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
In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard
Find more details about the UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group campaign at www.returntoshore.org
Sign their petition at https://returntoshore.org/sign-the-petition/