Surf and Beach safety Cornwall
Knowing basic surf and beach safety is vital to staying out of danger. Our beaches are patrolled by lifeguards in different ways. Some don’t have a lifeguard at any time of the year. Others have lifeguards in attendance for some of the year.
Here are some tips from the Surf Life Saving Club GB, who volunteer all year round and help keep Cornwall’s beaches safe for us all.
Know your safety flags:
All safety flags have something to tell you that is important to help you swim in the right place and avoid colliding with surfers, kayakers and all other non-powered craft.
Red and yellow flag means safest, patrolled swimming area. There will be two flags like this on the beach, swim in between them. From time to time the lifeguards may move the flags to new areas, so pay attention while you swim.
A black and white checked flag is a designated area for non-powered craft. That means kayaks, paddle boards, surfboards and any other craft with no engine. NEVER swim or bodyboard here, you could get hit really hard, really quickly.
A red flag means do not enter the water.
If a wind cone is flying (like you see at airfields) it means there is an off shore wind, so you should not use inflatables, you might get carried out to sea.
Know your waves:
Just as there are different flags there are different types of waves. Learning to spot how the waves are behaving is really useful.
Plunging or dumping waves will break with tremendous force and knock you off your feet. They usually occur at tidal extremes or when sandbanks are shallow and there is less water for the waves to break on.
Shorebreak these are plunging waves at knee depth water. Breaking waves and backwash cause vigorous suction that can knock you over and make you vulnerable to getting caught by the next wave.
Spilling wave is when the top of the wave spills down the front face of the wave. These waves are very good for surfing.
Surging wave this wave never actually breaks as it approaches the waters edge. These waves can knock you off your feet and carry you out of your depth. They can be very dangerous, especially around rocks.
Know your tide times:
Tides are different each day, so you should always pay attention to the times of high and low water. At low water you can often reach places on beaches that are cut off at high tide. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have heaps of time to get back, the tide comes in surprisingly quickly, especially over long reaches of flat sandy beaches. Beaches patrolled by lifeguards will have tide times posted on noticeboards. Buy a tide times book and learn how to read it. Knowing the tide times will make your holiday more interesting. Tide Times books are little, bright yellow books that are sold in newsagents, petrol stations and local shops.
Understand rip currents
Rips are strong currents that can quickly take swimmers out of their depths. If you get caught in a rip don’t panic. Try to stay parallel to the shore and wave one arm to alert a lifeguard. If you have a surfboard or body board with you, keep hold of it, it will keep you afloat and can help stop you from getting too tired.
Not sure? Don’t go in
You should never swim on your own and if you feel at all unsure of your swimming strength or the waves, don’t go in.
Beaches in Cornwall are wonderful places for us all. It’s best to take time to understand the information from lifeguards and interpret what the sea is showing you.