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How to keep your family safe at the beach

Whenever the famously inconsistent British weather allows it, we all enjoy heading to the beach and working on our suntan.

For children, of course, the experience is even more special, especially if they haven’t seen the sea often or at all in the past. Taking your son or daughter to the beach for the first time is one of the more special experiences a parent can have, and the memories created at the coast should last a lifetime for all involved.

However, whilst the beach is undoubtedly a cost-effective and brilliantly healthy way for the whole family to have fun, we should all be aware that it does hold some dangers for anyone who does not respect the sea. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at some easy tips which you can follow to ensure that your next getaway to Looe in Cornwall is memorable for all the right reasons.

We were lucky enough to speak with Jey Massingham, the owner of Newquay-based surf school Cornish Wave (who also specialise in offering coasteering and wild camping experiences), about what they think the most important steps people can take are for keeping their children – and themselves – safe in the water.

Know your flags

Lifeguard flags

Anyone who has been to the beach during the summer in recent years will most likely have spotted a lifeguards’ truck keeping watch over the swimmers and surfers as they enjoy the water, as well as the different coloured flags which they set up along the shore. However, while we all know the flags are important, how many of us actually know exactly what each one means? Fortunately, Jey is on hand to explain everything we need to know:

“The majority of Cornwall’s beaches are covered by RNLI lifeguards during peak seasons.

“If you’re planning on enjoying the beach this summer make sure you understand and abide by the RNLI lifeguard rules and regulations.

Red / Yellow Flags: If you are bodyboarding, swimming or bathing this area is for you.

Black / White Flags: For surfers and hardcraft water users this is best for you.

Red Flag: Red flags indicate dangerous surf and advises water users to not enter the ocean. Red flags mean lifeguards deem the water too dangerous for water users.”

Beware of rip currents

Rough seas

Getting caught in a rip current – defined as a strong surface current flowing seaward from the shore – is seen as a nightmare of a prospect, even for experienced swimmers and surfers, let alone young children. The good news, though, is that keeping a few simple things in mind will allow your loved ones to escape this difficult situation unscathed if they are unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jey from Cornish Wave was again able to provide us with some excellent advice for just such an event:

“Rip currents are the biggest cause of incidents on Cornwall’s beaches. Caused by water trying to find its own level, these are very troublesome patches of water.

“Although deadly, currents can be avoided. Remember our simple step by step guide:

  • Stay calm and collected. Do not panic.
  • If you are still able to stand up, attempt to wade through the sea rather than swim.
  • Keep hold of any floatation aids that you have with you such as bodyboards, surfboards or inflatables.
  • Raise one arm – wave and shout for help.
  • Never try to swim against the rip current, always swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.
  • Never discard any floatation device that you may have with you.”

Some general advice

People on the beach at Looe

The two points mentioned above – taking notice of lifeguard flags and knowing what to do in case of a rip current – are the most important things you and your family will need to bear in mind when next enjoying a day at the beach, but there are other potential issues to be aware of.

  • Try to avoid swimming alone, and do not let your children swim unsupervised under any circumstances.
  • Lifeguards are there for a reason – do not feel afraid to talk to them about the current surf conditions.
  • Do not run or dive into the water, as depth can change very quickly. Make sure your children are also aware of this danger.
  • If you have just eaten, leave it a while before going back into the water.
  • Be aware of signs at the entrance to the beach; if there are no lifeguards present it may be that the beach is closed, in which case you definitely shouldn’t go into the sea!

Jey from Cornish Wave also helpfully points out that the normal operating service hours for lifeguards in the summer are 10AM–6PM and that, importantly, parents should ‘remember that not everyone is a confident water user’.

This last point may sound obvious but some accidents happen simply because more experienced surfers and swimmers sometimes do not appreciate that their friends and family members do not share the same levels of expertise. If you have been riding the waves for years, don’t assume that the people you are with are as knowledgeable as you, and do not put them under any pressure to keep up with your exploits!

Having said all this, there is no need to overreact and embark on your holiday thinking that the beach is constantly full of all manner of dangers.

Accidents in the water are rare and, if you follow the above guidelines, you and your family should be completely safe whenever you venture into the sea this summer. After all, enjoying the golden sand and crystal clear waters is one of the best things about visiting the beautiful county of Cornwall, so be sure to make the most of it!

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