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Warning to beachgoers amid spate of rescues

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 18, 2012

Lifeguard
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Lifeguards have issued a stark safety warning after a week which has seen them relentlessly called into action to save dozens of lives.

In the last five days, lifeguards have rescued snorkelers, kayakers, surfers and, on one day, more than 30 swimmers from a Devon beach. In the latest mass rescue, four separate groups of kayakers were pulled to safety by RNLI crews in North Devon.

Keith Colwell, divisional sea safety manager for the RNLI South, said people must be aware of potential dangers.

"This is not about being a killjoy," he said. "We are not trying to stop people from having fun, we just want people to remember that there are very serious consequences.

"When you are out on the water things can easily spiral out of control. Something small happens and then something else on top of that and all of a sudden you are in deep water."

On Thursday, RNLI lifeboat crews in Ilfracombe spent much of the day hauling kayakers to safety from heavy seas.

The volunteer crews were called out at 2pm after a local angler reported two adults and two children with kayaks in trouble on a beach under Hangman Cliffs, near Combe Martin.

When the crew arrived on scene they found the four people were stranded, with surf of over two metres high preventing them from getting off the beach. However the inshore lifeboat found the swell to be too strong for them to get safely on to the beach and instead were forced to deploy a smaller inflatable craft to put a crewman ashore.

In order to rescue the group, a breeches buoy rope pulley system was rigged between the land and the all-weather lifeboat.

Once all the party were safely on board, they told the crew that other members of their group were still missing, having been swept further up the coast. Both lifeboats immediately began a search for the kayakers, eventually locating them a mile away.

That wasn't the end of the drama after coastguards reported a further two kayakers were overdue.

Another search located the duo trapped at Wild Pear Beach, from where they were escorted back to the harbour.

The final incident that day involved three more kayaks reported missing to the west of Coombe Martin.

The RNLI found them near Watermouth Harbour, where they were paddling in a large swell, and escorted back into harbour.

Andrew Bengey, volunteer RNLI Coxswain at Ilfracombe, said all the rescues on Thursday involved kayaks which had been hired. He urged people to check the weather forecast, sea state conditions and even take advice from locals more familiar with conditions before heading out.

"These incidents prove just how easy it is to get caught out by bad weather and big surf," he said. "The RNLI are always keen to prevent incidents and some simple tips can help you avoid getting into difficulty. For instance always check the weather and tides before setting off, and ask for local information."

August is normally the RNLI's busiest month, however a combination of the wet weather and the draw of the Olympics have conspired to keep many people off the beach and out of their boats.

This week has, however, seen a rash of rescues; on Thursday two teenage girls on holiday from Manchester were plucked from the sea after getting into trouble in choppy waves off Godrevy. The girls' father and brother tried to rescue them in a kayak initially, but then they too were overwhelmed by the powerful sea conditions.

The same day, a surfer, a swimmer and a windsurfer were rescued from Porthtowan, Perranporth and Greenaway Beach in the Camel Estuary, respectively.

Earlier this week, a total of 30 people caught in a rip current ay Croyde in North Devon were rescued.

and last weekend, a nine-year-old girl was brought to safety after being pulled out of her depth by currents at Blackpool Sands, near Dartmouth.

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  • stevie22b  |  August 20 2012, 2:22AM

    I have driven past Watermouth Cove myself many times over the last few weeks, and each time i have seen the Kayak for hire signs, along with the bright yellow kayak advertising the fact. I do not recall it being there before this year, if it was it was less prominent from the road. Either way, i knew this kind of thing was bound to happen before too long. So i was not surprised to see this in the news. And before i even read it i knew these were likely to be hired kayaks. Very rarely experienced kayak users find themselves in such trouble. A total lack of responsibility from the hirer, if they are going to hire out kayaks to inexperienced people in all weathers, then they should have a safety boat out on the water. I personally feel that the council should insist on that before allowing them to hire out the kayaks.

  • oceanical  |  August 20 2012, 12:38AM

    The week before these kayak rescues, I noted that the Watermouth Cove holiday park was happy to hire kayaks out to probable beginners / families with children when there was a thick sea fog! The following day, they were hiring again in a stiff easterly wind with significant waves. I thought then that it is only a matter of time before the RNLI are called out, or someone drowns. I was correct on the first point, but hope that some lessons can be learnt now so that I am wrong on the second, and that events such as the Lyme Bay tragedy and similar can be learnt. Like the RNLI, I don't want to stop people enjoying themselves, but Watermouth Cove, Surfside leisure and others have a moral responsibility not to hire kayaks when conditions are inappropriate, and also to inform their clients, perhaps by issuing a laminated chart, about the risks of Combe Martin Bay. They should do a published risk assessment taking into account; Most of their clientele are beginners (more experienced kayakers would have likely bought their own kit) The short sit on tops that they hire are slow, and, in inexperienced hands, are unlikely to be able to be paddled against the spring ebb current NW of the Watermouth Cove beach, or the flood E of Little Hangman (as exemplified above). Get out points beyond these are limited, so an inadvertent trip to Lundy or Lynmouth respectively could be part of their holiday. Sit on tops are harder to paddle in the wind, so an offshore wind above just 10mph is likely to result in them heading to Wales, whereas an onshore will blow them onto the rocks. Wild Pear Beach becomes a dumping surf beach similar to Croyde, and any swell above 2 feet may not look much from the sea, but will trap them on the beach with the nudists (although there is of course a path out if they know it, which presumably the two in the article didn't). The Ilfracombe Princess catamaran does not routinely slow down near other vessels, so generates a large steep wash that will swamp the inexperienced. There will be plenty of tourists on top of the boat to take photos of the helpless kayaker swimming in the drink, but the vessel's captain will likely be oblivious (as he is to ch16) and speed onto his next view point regardless. Even if you have managed to keep it dry, your mobile phone is unlikely to work to call for help because of the cliffs. The kayak hire company is unlikely to issue you a VHF radio unless you are certified, nor provide FRS cover or a safety boat, so you're on your own! That said, the area between Watermouth Cove holiday park and Combe Martin Beach provides excellent sea kayaking for beginners, and is safe in low winds / swells, and has minimal currents at all states of tide, so the hire companies should recommend their clients stick to this area to save the RNLI any more preventable work, and reduce the risk of fatalities.

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