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‘It’s unprecedented’ - coastal rescue teams endure summer of huge demand

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 August 2018

Members of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick Howes

Members of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick Howes

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With the East of England experiencing some of the UK’s hottest recorded temperatures in recent weeks, coastal rescue teams have faced extraordinarily high demand for their services.

The lifeboat from RNLI Lowestoft Lifeboat Station. Picture: Mick HowesThe lifeboat from RNLI Lowestoft Lifeboat Station. Picture: Mick Howes

As locals and holidaymakers head into the North Sea, seeking refuge from the heat, resources have been stretched to an extent that has seldom been seen.

Among those feeling the strain is the 13-strong HM Coastguard volunteer rescue team covering Lowestoft and Southwold.

The heat means the unit has had one of its busiest periods on record, responding to 31 callouts in July compared to just 13 in the same month last year.

With more than four-and-a-half months of the year remaining, last year’s callout total will be surpassed soon and the barrage is showing no sign of relenting.

An RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLIAn RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLI

“This summer has been exceptionally busy and it’s down to the hot weather,” said team member Andy Sutherland.

“I’ve worked with the coastguard team for 18 years and I’ve never seen it like this.

“The staggering thing is the quick succession of the jobs. In the 24 hours preceding 9pm on Tuesday (August 7) night, we had seven callouts including in Lowestoft, Gorleston and Loddon.

“In 2018 we’ve already had 110 callouts and we never usually reach that number in an entire year. It’s unprecedented.”

Members of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick HowesMembers of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick Howes

Also battling the odds is the crew at RNLI Lowestoft Lifeboat Station, called out on 27 occasions - an increase on last year.

Since July 1 they have attended 10 incidents, ranging from yachts with engine failure to searching for missing people and a child adrift in an inflatable dinghy.

On the beach, lifeguards have been on the lookout for swimmers in distress during what has been a hectic midsummer.

Liam Fayle-Parr, an RNLI Lifeguard supervisor with the Lowestoft and Southwold team, said: “July was the busiest I can remember in my eight years with the service.

An RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLIAn RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLI

“Fortunately we only had one serious rescue - underneath the Claremont Pier - which thankfully had a positive outcome. On top of that, we’ve supported with the missing children searches, first aids and minor aquatic assists.

“Lowestoft and Southwold are two long stretches of coastline where people like to swim and our lifeguards are working their hardest to ensure everyone is safe.”

A strain on resources

A further challenge for the coastguard team is overseeing a large area with a relatively small task force.

Members of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick HowesMembers of the Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard team, who have endured a hectic summer. Picture: Mick Howes

The Lowestoft and Southwold unit consists of nine men and four women, whose coastguard responsibilities dictate they must respond within 15 minutes when their pagers sound.

Their workload is made worse by having to cover a large area and the need to assist fellow rescue teams - a daunting prospect given the spate of recent callouts.

“Generally speaking we’re tasked with covering Hopton to Sizewell, meaning there can sometimes be runs where we’re heading all the way down to Sizewell from Lowestoft,” added Mr Sutherland. “There is a team in Aldeburgh, but unfortunately they’re low on manpower.

“The surprising thing for us has been the variety. We’ve dealt with everything, including missing person searches and situations where we’re assisting the ambulance service because they’re so tight on numbers.

An RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLIAn RNLI Lifeguard keeps watch on Southwold beach. Picture: Liam Fayle-Parr/RNLI

Safety advice

With the region’s finest coastal destinations teeming with sunbathers and swimmers - even more so since the summer holidays began - the rescue teams have urged beach-goers to keep safety in mind.

“The sea can be very unpredictable and we therefore urge people to swim between our red and yellow flags,” said Mr Fayle-Parr.

“These mark out our safe swim area and we keep a very close eye on the people swimming between them.

“We’ve been incredibly busy this summer with our public safety advice, which has involved relaying the dangers of climbing on rocks, swimming under piers and the use of inflatable boats.

There has also been a specific warning to men, with figures showing 99 of the 109 adults that died on the coastline in 2017 were male.

An RNLI spokesman added: “10 times more men died on the UK’s coast than women last year and we’d like to remind young men to be safety conscious around water.”

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