The three main hazards facing a visitor to the coast are weather, tides and currents. Their dangers can be minimised by checking local weather forecasts regularly; by reading the local tide-tables; and by asking the lifeguards or the local coastguard station about special dangers such as treacherous currents or underwater rocks. Most sporting activities, such as sailing, surfing and water-skiing, have their own codes of conduct which explain how to avoid danger and what to do if in distress. Learn the rules appropriate to the form of recreation you enjoy, and obey them: prevention of accidents is better than cure.


Scrambling across rocks and seeking out the shells, stones and tidal pools left by the tide is an absorbing pastime – and therein lies its danger. It is very easy to lose track of time and distance, with possibly disastrous results. Some tides turn very quickly and can sweep up hidden channels, cutting off the retreat of those who have ventured too far. This can mean several uncomfortable hours spent waiting for the tide to turn again; it could even result in drowning.

Make sure you know the times of the tides and other local conditions before setting out, and allow yourself plenty of time to get back before the tide turns. Remember that particularly high tides, called springtides, occur just after the new moon and full moon; neap tides, which have the lowest range between high and low water, occur during the moon’s first and last quarters. Wear footwear suitable for scrambling over slippery rocks, such as rope-soled shoes; otherwise you may fall, hurt yourself and become trapped.

– DO NOT go exploring alone.

– DO wear sensible shoes.

– DO check the times of the tides.


Wait until one hour after a meal before swimming, and remember that when swimming in the sea your ability will be affected by waves, tides and the temperature of the water. Never swim out to sea; it is safer to swim parallel to the shore, staying within or close to your depth. If you cannot swim do not go into the sea above waist height. The best place to learn to swim is in a swimming pool, with expert tuition.

Swim with friends, not on your own. Hundreds of people are saved from drowning every year because they are seen in time. Lonely and unfrequented beaches may look inviting, but if you get into difficulties it is better to be near a beach where help is. available. So swim from a beach patrolled by lifeguards if possible.

The first rule for a swimmer in distress is to keep calm, then either float or tread water with one arm raised above the head; this is the recognised distress signal.

Watch out for changes in the surface of the water which indicate danger. Large, steep-faced waves which collapse from their crest into shallow water are called ‘dumpers’ and can hurl swimmers to the bottom with great force. Areas of smooth water indicate the presence of strong currents; a fast-moving channel of water returning to the sea is called a rip current. Never try to swim against a current. Instead, swim across it diagonally using a slow, strong stroke.

If you get carried out to sea in heavy surf, swim towards the shore in the troughs of the waves. As soon as you can touch bottom, dig into it with hands and feet to anchor yourself against the undertow as the wave breaks, then swim shorewards with the next wave. Be very cautious about using snorkel equipment unless you have been given professional advice on its use. And remember that air-beds and inflatable toys, though fun on the beach, can become deadly objects on the water, where currents and breezes can sweep them and their passengers far out to sea.

– DO NOT swim when red flags are flying.

– DO NOT go swimming alone.

– DO NOT use air-beds on the water.


Surfboard riding is for competent swimmers only and should never be attempted by anyone not fully aware of his or her abilities and limitations. Before you go surfing, find out from the lifeguards or other local authorities what regulations apply – restricted areas, for example – and check for tide movements, underwater obstacles and where rip currents may be running. Make sure you are insured against public liability in case you accidentally injure someone.

When buying or hiring a board, remember that a board which is too long will be difficult to control, while one that is too short will not support you properly. Ask an expert to advise you on the right board for your experience and body weight.

Red flags indicate that bathing is temporarily unsafe; they are usually accompanied by a warning notice fixed to the flag pole. Places where it is always dangerous to bathe are marked by notice boards coloured red with white lettering. Red-and-yellow flags indicate areas

Some beaches have exclusive areas for surfing, indicated by black-and-white quarter flags. You must surf between these markers, and avoid swimming areas which may be indicated by red-and-yellow flags. When paddling out, manoeuvre around the surfing area to avoid incoming riders, and in crowded conditions watch out for fallen riders and loose boards. If you and your board part company, try to hold on to it – an ankle leash is an essential part of your equipment. If caught in a rip current never leave your surfboard. Paddle across the current until you move into an area of breaking waves which will propel you to shore.

– DO use the right length board.

– DO leave the water before becoming tired.

– DO avoid swimming areas.

– DO insure yourself.


Like most sports requiring a certain amount of skill, water-skiing requires expert training to ensure maximum safety and enjoyment. Even if you are a good swimmer, always wear a life-jacket; and before taking to the water, check your skis for loose wing nuts, loose binding, splinters and sharp metal.

Do not ski in water less than 3 ft deep, and once you are ski-borne watch the water ahead for obstacles such as rock>, banks, buoys, breakwaters and jetties. Do not ski within 200 yds of the shore or anywhere near swimmers or other water users.

Avoid falling forwards if possible. Instead, either sit down or fall sideways, curling yourself into a ball. Throw away the towing handle on falling and recover your skis as soon as possible to help keep afloat. Signal that all is well after a fall by holding up your hand or a ski. There should always be two people in the boat, one to drive and one to watch the skier. Understand and use the approved signals between skier and crew.

– DO take lessons before attempting to ski.

– DO wear a life-jacket.

– DO NOT ski in ‘water less than 3 ft deep.

– DO avoid other water users.

– Dohave a competent driver and an observer in the bout.

FURTHER INFORMATION: British Water Ski Federation, 390 City Road, London EclV 2QA. Tel. (01)833 2855. supervised by lifeguards. Black-and-white flags mark areas designated for surfing, and blue-and-white flags warn that scuba divers are operating in the area. Gale warning signals are hoisted on piers and jetties when winds of force 8 (39-46 mph) or above are expected.

BOARDSAILING (Windsurfing)

This rapidly growing sport has fewer restrictions than other forms of sailing, and there are few places where sailboards cannot or should not go. As in any other waterborne activity, however, consideration for others is important – so keep clear of bathing areas, busy harbours and anglers.

Wear suitable clothing, such as a wetsuit and light windproof jacket, and always wear a buoyancy aid which carries the anchor symbol of the Ship and Boat Builders’ National Federation. Buoyancy aids are designed for active water sports; they do not serve the same function as a life-jacket, and should only be worn by reasonably good swimmers. Carry a flare, and a spare length of line.

Check tide times and the weather forecast. Do not sail in an offshore wind unless you are very experienced. If you find yourself far from the shore and cannot get back, undo the sail from the boom, roll and tie it to the mast. Remove or retract the daggerboard, place the rig on the sailboard and kneel or lie on top of it then paddle ashore. If you require assistance, raise one arm and wave it slowly from side to side.

– DO keep clear of other water users.

– DO wear a buoyancy aid.

– DO acquaint yourself with emergency drill.

– DO NOT sail in an offshore wind. FURTHER INFORMATION: Royal Yachting Association, Victoria Way, Woking, Surrey GU21 1EQ. Tel. Woking 5022. UK Board Sailing Association Ltd, Masons Road, Stratford-upon-Avon. Tel. Stratford-upon-Avon 299574.


Lessons with a club or with a training establishment recognised by the Royal Yachting Association will give experience in emergency actions such as capsize drill and ‘man overboard’ drill, as well as the Rules of the Road Afloat. Small-boat sailors should also be able to swim at least 50 yds in light clothing and in a life-jacket.

Before setting sail, obtain a weather forecast and study local tide-tables. Ask people with local knowledge about rocks or wrecks. Check harbour bye-laws and restricted areas for swimmers, surfers or water-skiers. Ensure that all your equipment is in good order. Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you expect to be back. Don’t forget to report your safe return.

If you are launching from the beach or from a slipway, an offshore wind will soon speed you on your way, but you may have difficulty in turning back. If you are not experienced in sailing into the wind it is better to launch in an onshore wind. Launching and landing in breakers and surf pose special problems, and expert advice is needed. It is inadvisable to sail in winds above force 4 on the Beaufort Scale, and you should never sail in winds of a strength above force 6.

If all your efforts to right the boat after a capsize fail, then stay with the boat. Do not attempt to swim for the shore, for it is invariably further away than it looks. Climb on to the boat if you can and wait for help. If you have to stay in the water your life-jacket will keep you afloat; avoid unnecessary movements, to conserve body heat.

– DO check weather forecasts and tide-tables.

– DO observe harbour bye-laws.

– DO fell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Royal Yachting Association, Victoria Way, Woking, Surrey GU21 1EQ. Tel. Woking 5022.

Safety in the water starts on dry land. The best way to avoid accidents is to understand the hazards that water presents, and learn how to avoid them. Remember that the absence of a warning sign does not mean that there is no danger. On the great majority of beaches there are no warning signs – Ind no facilities for immediate rescue.

Many popular beaches are, however, supervised by lifeguards, and in addition HM Coastguard controls a network of permanently manned rescue centres. If you see anyone in difficulties, remember that a team effort is more effective than an individual rescue attempt. If you are in difficulties yourself, don’t panic, but do your best to attract attention, and keep calm until help arrives.

Lifeguard services

Lifeguards may be professionals employed by local authorities, or volunteers provided by the Surf Life Saving Association of Great Britain or the Royal Life Saving Society. All lifeguards have life-saving equipment appropriate to the conditions on the particular section of beach they are supervising. Many of them also have inshore rescue boats and oxygen-powered resuscitation equipment. They are able to call out other rescue services if necessary.

In some resorts with long beaches or several beaches, lifeguards may supervise a single beach or part of a beach. Supervised areas are marked out with red-and-yellow flags. Do not bathe when red flags are flying, and at all times follow the advice of the lifeguards, who know the particular beach and its hazards and are there to help.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution Since 1963 the RNLI has complemented its

Behind a ‘seaside holiday tragedy’ headline in the newspapers all too often lies a story of ignorance, lack of caution or downright foolhardiness. To avoid accidents it is vital to have a realistic understanding of your own abilities in and on open water, and to seek advice before going in or on the water if you are not fully aware of local conditions.

Whether swimming, canoeing or even fishing, don’t go alone; because if trouble occurs there could be no one on hand to help. If an emergency does occur, prompt action is needed, but the action must be taken decisively and without panic.

Helping yourself

If you fall into the water and cannot reach safety:

– Keep culm and resist the temptation to struggle.

– Turn over and float on your back.

– Attract attention in/ waving one arm mid shouting for help.

– When a lifeguard or rescuer arrives, remain calm and do not clutch hold of him.

Helping others

If you see someone in difficulties, don’t go into the water after him, however good a swimmer you are, if you can possibly avoid it. Other methods of fleet of lifeboats with high-speed inflatable power boats designed specifically for going to the rescue of small boats close inshore. There are now about 120 of these inflatable lifeboats – previously called inshore rescue boats – in operation. They can be called quickly into service, not only to rescue sailing craft but also to go to the aid of people cut off by the tide or children adrift on air-beds and inflatable toys. For an account of the foundation and development of the RNLI, from its beginnings in 1824 to the present day.

HM Coastguard

The Coastguard Service was created in 1922 to fight smuggling, but since 1925 it has had the very different role of saving life at sea. Its responsibility is to co-ordinate all civil maritime search-and-rescue operations for people and vessels in distress around the United Kingdom and its 6,000 miles of coastline. These operations range from countering major disasters offshore to recovering people stranded on cliffs or cut off by the tide.

The Coastguard Service has no rescue craft of its own, but operates an extensive network of permanently manned modern rescue centres. These are capable of calling upon the assistance of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters, RNLI lifeboats, ships at sea and, when required, police and fire services. HM Coastguard Rescue Companies do, however, retrieve people from stranded vessels or from cliffs.

Try first to find someone who will help you. One person can then seek expert assistance from a lifeguard, or by dialling 999 and asking for ‘Coastguard’. While waiting for help, consider other methods of rescue:

– Look for somethiing to help pull the swimmer out – a stick, a piece of rope or an article of clothing.

– Lie flat to prevent yourself from being pulled in, and hold out the object for the victim to grab.

– Near shore, if conditions allow, several rescuers may link hands to make a human chain to reach the victim.

If you cannot reach the person in distress, throw a floating object – a lifebuoy if available, a spare wheel, an upturned bucket – for him to hold on to. lfa boat is available, row it to the victim stern first so that it does not capsize when he grabs it.