8 December 2014

Stay away from the sea this winter

Seafront Officers are urging residents and visitors to stay away from the sea this winter.

The warning follows the recent incident when an experienced swimmer had to be rescued after getting into difficulty while swimming near the pier.

Seafront Manager Chris Ingall explained: “The continuing mild weather has meant that the Seafront has been much busier than in previous autumns. It’s been great to see so many people enjoying a stroll on the promenade and its good news for Seafront businesses, but we would ask people to stay on the path or high up on the beach, especially when the sea conditions are rough.

“Please keep a close eye on children and hold their hand when on the beach.  Do not allow children to play ‘chicken’ with the surf washing up the beach – we see this regularly on big winter surf days and this is precisely how people become washed out to sea.  Parents need to take greater responsibility and keep little ones close at all times when visiting the beach.”

This year the council will be taking extra measures to discourage swimmers from taking a Christmas Day dip by closing the beaches around the Palace Pier.

“Sea swimming takes skill, stamina and knowledge of the physical dangers and should only be for the very experienced, using suitable wetsuits, in very calm conditions and with a friend,” said Chris. “Even on a calm day sea currents, undertow or a sudden change in weather can create life threatening hazards without warning. Even experienced swimmers can get caught out.”

The beaches may not be crowded but there’s still plenty to keep the seafront officers busy as they head into winter.

Work includes planning and implementing major and minor repairs such as damaged benches and resurfacing.

“The 13km of Seafront needs a lot of looking after,” said Chris. “We are still out on the seafront every day from 6am checking for hazards, monitoring facilities, reporting graffiti and vandalism, as well as looking out for those staggering out of the nightclubs and those sleeping rough.”

He added that winter also brings a chance to plan and prepare for next year’s summer season with work including compiling Beach Lifeguard statistics and incident reports from the 2014 summer season, reviewing and replacing signage, planning for major events and the recruitment of seasonal staff.

Then there’s the paperwork - health and safety audits, risk assessments, ordering new and replacement lifeguarding and first aid supplies and compiling information for the public including these Winter Water Facts which show why it is better to stay on the shore rather than in the water at this time of year:

•           Sea temperatures in the winter months are about 5 degrees centigrade and can be even colder.

•           Even on an apparently clear sunny day, the sea temperature can drop body temperature quickly and   fatally.

•           It only takes a few minutes for the body’s core temperature to drop by two degrees and for the onset of hypothermia to begin.

•           It is never safe to go into the sea after drinking alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol speeds up the onset of hypothermia in cold water. Drinking also reduces your capabilities. You may also think you are a better swimmer than your true ability and take unnecessary risks.

•           Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition or taking medication runs additional risks by subjecting their body to a sudden drop of temperature by entering the sea.

•           Winter environmental conditions can be extremely challenging, even for the most experienced swimmers. The tide and the weather dictate the conditions and these should not be underestimated.

•           There is no beach lifeguard service provision in place during the winter months

•           Large crashing waves close to the shore can place lifeboat crews’ lives at risk and make it impossible to reach those in need.