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Beach Safety Guide

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Your guide to staying safe on Cornwall beaches this summer

Stay safe on your holidays and at the beach this summer by knowing, understanding and recognising potential dangers. Read this beach safety guide to equip yourself with the knowledge to safeguard yourself, your friends, and your family. Let this summer be a memorable one, for all the right reasons!

Top Five Beach Safety Tips:

  • Stay on Lifeguarded beaches
 

The RNLI saves thousands of lives each year, statistics say you are 500 times more likely to come into danger on a non-lifeguarded beach. 

  • In an emergency call 999 and ask for the coastguard
 

Always keep a phone on you at the beach to call for help if you need it, or if you see someone else in trouble. 

  • Know the beach safety flags
 

Know which flags mean it’s safe to swim or go out in the sea, and always check beach signage before entering the water.

  • Get in the know
 

Learn about beach safety with our beach safety guide, to understand and avoid potential dangers.

  • Float to Live
 

If you get into trouble out to sea or are caught in a rip current, float on your back, wave your hands in the air and call for help.

Newquay Activity Centre have been teaching on Newquay beaches and the Cornish coast for over 25 years, we are a Surf Life Saving Great Britain Affiliated Training Centre, training beach lifeguards, surf instructors, paddlesports instructors and coasteering guides, so when it comes to beach safety our knowledge and expertise is second to none. We emphasise prevention as the key to keeping people safe, by providing advice and warnings about potential hazards, we aim to prevent incidents altogether.

Ensure your safety on Cornwall’s beaches this summer by staying mindful of the beach environment, wildlife, and potential hazards that may pose risks to you and your loved ones. Read this guide for the low down on all the dangers of a summer day on the beach, explore our infographic for a quick reference guide on what to steer clear of and how to stay safe.

Beach Safety Guide - Newquay Activity Centre

Beach Safety Essentials

Lifeguards

Only use beaches that have Lifeguards present. In summer, between May and September there will be RNLI Lifeguards present at most Cornish beaches, so you won’t be short on choice. Patrolled beaches usually have lifeguards on duty between 10am and 6pm (check local info for precise times), so you still have plenty of time for beach fun!

“Educating yourself on the hazards of the beach environment and the sea is so valuable when it comes to safety. Understanding the specifics of the beach that you’re visiting is essential, and the best people to speak to are the lifeguards. They are always very willing to share their knowledge.

As a trainer of lifeguards and surf instructors, I always teach and encourage the sharing of advice and knowledge of the beach and local hazards with the public. Talking to the public and answering their questions is a huge part of the job and the key to a safer beach. Whether it’s areas to avoid or the best tide to surf at, that valuable information can prevent accidents from occurring. It’s a preventative method that has saved more lives than we know.

Never be afraid to ask a lifeguard’s advice!”

Freddie Allan-Gething, SLSGB Beach Lifeguard Trainer Assessor + Surf Coach.

Beach Signage and Local Advice

Check out local advice before hitting up your local summer beach. There will often be signage near beaches or in local towns and villages about suitable places for visiting and swimming. You can gain valuable safety advice from checking these and local forecasts or stations, and even find out extra information of local wildlife or highlights to make your day even more special!

RNLI Lifeguarded beaches will always have official signage highlighting potential dangers and precautions to take. Before heading onto a beach, it’s crucial to check any available signs, and if in doubt, seek guidance from a lifeguard.

On the beach, RNLI Lifeguards use flags to designate specific areas of the sea for swimming and other water-based activities. Always heed the RNLI flags and listen to any announcements made by the lifeguards, they’re there to keep you safe.

RNLI Beach Safety Signs will show you:

  • Beach hazards (Rocks and rips) 
  • Activities to avoid 
  • What services the Lifeguards are providing 
  • Other local info including water quality
Fistral Beach Lifeguard Signage

RNLI Beach Safety Flag Guide

The most common flags on Cornish beaches will be red and yellow striped for swimmers and bodyboarders, black and white check for surfers, red flags to indicate danger (no swimming) and windsocks for wind danger. Beach lifeguards assess and observe the beach everyday, and are always adapting to the changing water conditions and tides. These flagged areas are the lifeguards identifying the safest area for you.

Red and Yellow Flag

Red and yellow striped flags indicate a Lifeguard-patrolled swimming and bodyboarding zone. Swimmers and bodyboarders can safely swim between these flags. Be aware the flags may move as the ocean conditions change, the Lifeguards will move the flags to keep them in the safest areas. 

Black White Lifeguard Flag

Black and White Check Flag  

Black and white check flags indicate a zone, or boundary of a zone, designated for hardcraft – surfboards, paddleboards and kayaks. Swimmers and bodyboarders should not use these areas. Surf schools will often use the area between the black and white check flags, if you are starting to surf independently try to surf between these flags as they are patrolled by lifeguards.

Red Flag 

Red flags indicate that the lifeguards have deemed it unsafe to enter the sea. Do not enter the water if a red flag is up. If you are in the water, exit immediately.

Orange Cone / Wind Sock 

An orange cone or wind sock indicates that there is high wind danger and no inflatables should be used on the water. High winds can be very dangerous for inflatables, if you see a wind cone, it means the conditions are too windy or unsafe for inflatable use.

Lewis Timson , RNLI Lead Lifeguard Supervisor at Fistral Beach told us;

“Water is an unpredictable and dangerous environment. Rip currents can be difficult to spot but are sometimes identified by a channel of churning, choppy water on the sea’s surface. Please use one of the lifeguarded beaches across Newquay, swim between the red and yellow flags and feel free to speak to any of our lifeguards for safety advice. No matter how experienced you are, anyone can be caught out by a rip current as the strong currents can quickly sweep people out of their depth in a matter of seconds.

‘Also, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking are activities that are becoming increasingly more popular; however, now it is more important than ever that the public are aware of the potential risks involved with the likes of SUP and kayaking. These are wonderful activities; however, it is vital that individuals are well prepared and informed before getting in the sea. Conditions change daily, and even hourly so before entering the water, let your friends or family know where you are going and familiarise yourself with local hazards. Furthermore, we advise wearing a buoyancy aid and taking a means of communicating with someone in case you do get into difficulty.“

Other Beach Users

Always be mindful of other beach users when on the beach. Surfers or other watercraft users in particular can be dangerous to swimmers. Always swim within the red and yellow flags, but stay aware of your surroundings. If you are surfing, be mindful of other surfers and surfboards, particularly on windy days or if there are a lot of learner classes out who may be less able to control their boards.

First Aid Kit

All Lifeguarded beaches will have a First Aid Kit to hand for emergencies. However, if you have your own it can save a lot of time and work for Lifeguards. You can pick up a First Aid Kit from supermarkets or pharmacies that will help you deal with any minor injuries on the beach. A beach First Aid Kit should include:Beach First Aid Kit

  • Waterproof Plasters
  • Antiseptic cream, ointment or wipes
  • Sterile Gauze Pads
  • Disposable Gloves
  • First Aid Tape
  • Pain killers 
  • Antihistamine tablets 
  • Tweezers
  • Eye Wash/Saline Solution

In the Sea

Shallow Water

Swim in waist high, shallow water, if you can keep your feet on the floor, you are better able to keep yourself and any children out of danger.

Inflatables

Always supervise children on inflatables in the sea. If you are using inflatables stay in the shallows. Always check weather conditions before taking inflatables out, particularly the wind. Strong winds, particularly offshore winds can blow those on inflatables out to open water very quickly which can put you in danger. An offshore wind blows from the land out to sea.

Do not use inflatables if:

  • It’s a windy day
  • The wind is blowing offshore
  • The lifeguards have the windsock/ orange cone out 

 

Inflatables can be very dangerous if blown out to sea. If in doubt, don’t go out. 

Bodyboards

Bodyboards are a great way of having fun in the ocean, but if you’re thinking about purchasing boards for yourself or your family make sure you buy high quality durable boards that are not going to break. Cheap bodyboards are not only damaging to the environment, they are dangerous to use in the sea. Large numbers of bodyboard incidents occur because cheap bodyboard leashes snap, leaving the user out in the open ocean without their board. Invest in a good quality bodyboard or hire one from our centre, and you invest in the environment and in your own safety. When you’re out in the waves, remember to stay in shallow water where you can still stand up especially if you are with children.

Rip Currents

Rip Current Diagram
Source: RNLI

What is a rip current?

Rip currents are strong, fast moving channels of water created when the water pushed inland by waves needs to find a way back out to sea.

How to spot a rip current?

Rip currents can look like a deeper, discoloured section of water. You may see sea froth or debris floating quickly out to sea. There may be fewer breaking waves in that section and the water will be flowing fast out to sea.

What to do if you get caught in a rip current?

If you get caught in a rip:

  • FLOAT on your back
  • WAVE your hands in the air to get the attention of the lifeguards or others on shore 
  • SHOUT for help. 
  • Do NOT swim against the current, the current is very fast and strong and you will tire out
  • Stay calm and don’t thrash about in the water as this will wear you out
  • Try to lay back and breathe normally until help arrives

 

If in doubt, always remember, Float To Live.

If you see someone else in trouble, tell a lifeguard. If you can’t see a lifeguard call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

To learn more about rips and waves, check out our Understanding Waves Blog

Wildlife

Jellyfish

Jellyfish can be found on Cornish beaches in the summer, but they don’t have to stop you swimming. Most of the jellyfish species found off the Cornish coast are harmless and only a few will actually sting you. The most common jellyfish you will see in summer in Cornwall are Moon, Barrel and Blue Jellyfish, none of which give more than a mild sting.

If you or someone you are with has been stung by a jellyfish, get a lifeguard or first aider to help.

If help is not available:

  • Carefully remove any tentacles with tweezers 
  • Rinse the affected area with sea water (not freshwater) 
  • Soak the area in hot water (as hot as you can handle) for at least 30 minutes

You can avoid jellyfish stings by:

  • Looking out for beach warning signs
  • Wearing a wetsuit when swimming in the sea, particularly during the spring and summer
Jellyfish

Weever Fish

Weever Fish are very common around the sandy beaches in Cornwall, particularly in summer. They appear most often in warm shallow water at low tide. Weever fish are small fish that have a poisonous spine stinger on their back. They bury themselves in the sand making them tricky to spot, but easy to step on. If you tread on a weever fish sting, you may feel a sharp stab and then the pain can increase. Weever fish stings don’t generally cause any long term harm, but can be painful.

If you or someone you are with has stepped on a weever fish, get a lifeguard or first aider to help. If help is not available:

  • Immerse the affected area in hot water (as hot as you can stand) as quickly as possible for 30-90 minutes 
  • Remove any spines from the skin using tweezers or the edge of a bank card

You can avoid weever fish stings by:

  • Wearing wetsuit boots, waterproof shoes or sandals when walking in shallow water or rocky areas
  • Scuffing or stamping your feet when walking in shallow water which can make any sea creatures in the area swim away
Weaver Fish

Other Wildlife

Cornwall is home to plenty of ocean wildlife, from fish to curious seals and even sometimes whales! If you’re lucky enough to spy some of the native wildlife while you’re at the beach or in the water, observe from a safe distance. Do not try to get close or touch any wildlife. Respect that you are in their environment and they will likely leave you alone. 

On The Beach

The beach is a wonderful place to be, and here in Cornwall we have some of the best beaches in the UK. We’d like to keep them that way, so here are a few do’s and don’ts for on the beach this summer. 

Do

  • Use reusable water bottles, cups and cutlery – not single use plastic items
  • Take your waste with you – don’t leave any debris on the beach 
  • Leave only footsteps – don’t remove anything from the beach including stones or shells
  • Buy or hire, high quality bodyboards that won’t break
  • Explore responsibly – take care when moving around the beach that you don’t disturb any wildlife like birds in nests or sea life in rock pools 
  • Take a spare bag to the beach with you for a mini beach clean! 
  • Observe Lifeguard and Local council advice and signage

Don’t

  • Leave rubbish on the beach 
  • Use disposable BBQs 
  • Get too close to wildlife or try and touch it
  • Climb at the bottom or top of a cliff 
  • Throw away used cigarette butts onto the beach 

The Sun

It’s easy to forget when you’re in and out of the water on a nice sunny day that you need protection from the sun. Follow these top tips to avoid sun related problems:

  • Stay in the shade as much as possible between 11am and 3pm.
  • Cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
  • Use sun cream that’s at least factor 30 and apply at least an hour before you enter the water
  • Take extra care with children and always remember to reapply after you’ve been in the water
  • If you’re experiencing signs of heat stroke – seek assistance from the lifeguards

Hydration

Stay hydrated by drinking water frequently. Especially on sunny days, and after getting out of the sea. If you’ve been surfing or bodyboarding, you may not always feel thirsty as the seawater stops you noticing that you’re sweating, but you’ve still been doing physical activity and need to hydrate! Keep an eye on children to make sure they’re drinking plenty too. 

Clothing

Even at the peak of the summer the ocean can be colder than you’d expect, especially for the elderly and children. Wearing suitable gear is not only important for your safety, it also means you can stay in longer and have more fun! Hiring or buying a high quality wetsuit will keep you warm, protect you in the ocean and generally make your sea experience a lot more fun! Wild swimmers and cold water dippers should also remember to keep dry clothes for when they get out of the water, and a steamy hot drink to warm you up from the inside out. 

Rocks

Rocks can be hidden both beneath the sand and the waves. Check out the RNLI beach signage which may indicate beach hazards. Take note as you head down to the beach where the waves are breaking on rocks and try to avoid those areas. Be observant about your surroundings and avoid any areas that look unstable or dangerous. If you are unsure about the location of any rocks or dangers, check with the beach lifeguards who should be able to point out any areas to avoid. Do not climb on any high rocks on the beach, and keep children away from them they can be unstable and dangerous. 

Cliffs

Never sit under cliffs, or rocky outcrops on the beach. They may provide shade however, rock falls and rock slides can occur and can be fatal. Be sure to keep children from playing under cliffs or in caves on the beach. 

Outdoor Activities

If you and your family are planning to buy or hire some sports equipment this summer, perhaps you’re want to take to the waves and learn to surf, give stand-up paddleboarding a try, or you’ve always wanted to go kayaking! It’s great to want to throw yourself in the deep end, but safety should always come first. Consider the following before setting out independently. 

  • Training – Do you have the appropriate training and experience to be able to safely handle the equipment and lead others, especially children?
  • Planning – Have you told someone where you are going and when you plan to be back?
  • Weather and Tides – Have you checked ahead for the weather and tides and considered how it may affect your activity? 
  • Equipment – Do you have all the necessary safety equipment to go ahead on an activity by yourself?
  • Lifeguard advice – Know your flags! Don’t use inflatables when there are high winds, or if you see the orange windsock. This includes SUPs and inflatable kayaks.

 

If the answer is no to any of the above, we highly recommend going out with trained instructors, or choosing a training course to learn on, instead of going out by yourself. An expertly trained instructor will take you to not only the safest, but the best spot for the activity you choose – they’re experts for a reason! You’ll likely have a lot more fun with a guide who knows the area. If you do choose to hire or buy equipment and head off independently, be sure to always carry a phone to call for help, and wear appropriate safety gear. 

“When you’re surfing on a new beach it’s really important to understand how it’s affected by conditions like tides and swell. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or have recently caught the surfing bug, chatting to locals is key! 

Speak to the surf shop staff, other surfers, surf schools and the lifeguards. These folk hold so much knowledge and are eager to share it. Not only will you be safer in the water, you’ll probably pick up some great tips too, like the best times to surf to suit your ability.

Before you head in the water take time to observe the surf. Watching the waves for at least 20 minutes will help you get a clearer picture of the conditions, spot rips, channels and sand banks, and will help your surfing too!”

Freddie Allan-Gething, SLSGB Beach Lifeguard Trainer Assessor + Surf Coach.

 

So now you’re equipped with all the information you need to stay safe in Cornwall this summer. Remember your summer for the right reasons, and use this guide to keep you and your loved ones out of harm’s way by putting safety first. 

If you want to learn more about the ocean and beach safety, and build your own or your families confidence in the water, why not join us on one of our outdoor activities in Newquay? Our expert instructors are trained and qualified lifeguards, able to give you first hand knowledge and experience on how to have fun and stay safe in the sea. 

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Beach Safety FAQ

Is it safe to swim in the sea in Cornwall?

Yes, absolutely, as long as you swim between the red and yellow flags on lifeguarded beaches. 

When at the beach be aware of the dangers on the sand and in the sea. Always accompany children in the water, swim in lifeguard designated areas only and stay in the shallows. Listen out for and obey any Lifeguard advice and never swim alone or after drinking alcohol. 

Around Newquay; Fistral, Great Western, Towan and Tolcarn beaches are Lifeguard patrolled in the summer months. You can check which beaches have lifeguards and what times they are on patrol on our Cornish Beaches Guide.

At any beach with a Lifeguard that has red and yellow striped flags.

If you’ve never surfer before – take a surf lesson. The instructor will show you good spots for beginners and keep you safe. When you’re starting to progress by yourself, or if you have kids, stick to the areas between black and white flags as they are patrolled by lifeguards.

Yes, but sightings are rare. One of the more common species are Basking Sharks, which can sometimes be seen passing through Cornish waters, these gentle giants are more commonly found off the south coast of Cornwall.

Rip currents are the most common cause of beach rescues. You can avoid Rips by learning how to spot them. Check out our section on rips in the blog above. If you’re ever caught in a Rip remember, FLOAT to live.

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