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Wednesday 26 January 2022

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Understanding hazards and dangers

Do you know what a rip current is and how to get out of trouble if caught in one? This and other top tips for avoiding hazards and danger at the beach.

Rip currents (Rips)

Rips are strong currents running out to sea that can easily take swimmers from shallow water out beyond their depth. They are especially powerful in larger surf, but are also found around river mouths, estuaries and man-made structures like piers and groynes.

How to spot  a rip current

  • discoloured, brown water (caused by sand being stirred up from the seabed)
  • foam on the water's surface
  • debris floating out to sea
  • a rippled patch of sea, when the water around is generally calm. 

Image of a rip current

How to get out of trouble

If you are caught in a rip or strong current, obey the three Rs:

  • Relax ? Stay calm and float. Do not swim against the current, swim across it.
  • Raise ? Raise an arm to signal for help. If possible shout to shore for help.
  • Rescue ? Float and wait for assistance. Do not panic, people drown in rips because they panic. Obey directions from the lifeguard.

If you think you are able to swim in, swim parallel to the beach until out of the effects of the rip and then make your way to shore.

Tides and waves

  • Keep an eye on tides. Always check the tide before you enter the water. If you are not sure, check with a lifeguard.
  • Be careful not to get cut off by the tide when walking along the shore.
  • Always ensure your children are not in danger from the tide when playing on the beach.
  • Never think it is safe to wave dodge. The sea is unpredictable and what looks like fun could end in tragedy with large waves taking you out to sea.
  • Spilling waves are the safest to swim in. They appear when the top of the wave tumbles down the front.
  • Dumping waves break with great force in shallow water. These are dangerous waves that usually occur during low tide. Avoid the sea when you see dumping waves.

Tombstoning or jumping from height into the sea

Tombstoning is a high-risk activity, which involves jumping or diving from a height into water. It can be dangerous because:

  • Water depth alters with the tide
  • The water may be shallower than it seems
  • Submerged objects like rocks may not be visible
  • They can cause serious injury if you jump onto them
  • The shock of cold water may make it difficult to swim
  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away.

However, for those who wish to participate in tombstoning, taking into account the following advice beforehand can reduce the risks:

  • Check for hazards in the water. Rocks or submerged objects under the sea may not be visible through the surface
  • Check the depth of the water. Remember tides can rise or fall very quickly, it may start off deep enough but can quickly become shallower
  • As a rule of thumb, a jump of ten metres requires a depth of at least five metres.
  • Never jump while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or peer pressure
  • Consider the risk to others. Conditions can change rapidly so remember young people could be watching and attempt to mimic the activity
  • Check for access, it may be impossible to get out of the water


At present, there is no formal accreditation scheme for coasteering schools so people should select a school carefully. The RNLI advises only taking part in coasteering as part of a group, which has:

  • Professionally trained staff (both technical and water safety based)
  • Adequate insurance cover
  • Safety equipment (helmets, wetsuits etc)
  • Emergency evacuation / accident procedures
  • Pre-defined routes

When coasteering is conducted by a well-trained leader using appropriate techniques and equipment, there is a much lower risk of getting hurt


  • When buying a bodyboard, always purchase a leash and flippers.
  • Always use your board on alifeguarded beach and board in between the red and yellow flags.
  • If you get into trouble, never abandon your board - it will keep you afloat. Wave your hand and shout for help.
  • If you are hiring a board, aim to use a member of the Surf Hire Safety scheme.


  • Wherever possible, always surf at a lifeguarded beach and follow the advice of the lifeguards,
  • Novices should only ever surf between the black and white flags.
  • Ask a lifeguard for advice on where to surf.
  • Always have a lesson at an approved BSA or ISA school.
  • Always wear your leash.
  • If you get into trouble never abandon your board - it will keep you afloat. Wave your hand and shout for help.
  • Never surf alone.
  • Never surf between the red and yellow flags.
  • Never drop in on another surfer.
  • If you are hiring a board, aim to use a member of the Surf Hire Safety scheme.


  • Inflatable toys are great fun in pools, but we strongly advise against using them in the sea, as there is a high chance of being swept out.
  • Always use inflatables on a lifeguarded beach, in between the red and yellow flags.
  • Never use an inflatable when the orange windsock is flying - this indicates an offshore wind,  that could carry you out to sea.
  • Never use an inflatable in choppy sea conditions.
  • Children's inflatables should always be secured with a line, held securely by an adult.

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