As the summer season come to an end, patrols on some RNLI lifeguarded beaches in Northern Ireland will finish this Sunday (6 September).
Weekend lifeguard cover will continue on four Northern Ireland beaches until the end of the month.
Members of the public are being urged by the charity to take extra care and be responsible when visiting the beach by knowing their limits and not taking risks.
Despite the Coronavirus situation and the challenges posed by lockdown restrictions earlier in the year the RNLI has worked with local authorities and other partners to provide lifeguards on nine Northern Ireland beaches this summer; Benone Strand, Castlerock, West Strand (Portrush), East Strand (Portrush), Whiterocks (Portrush), Ballycastle, Portstewart, Tyrella and Cranfield.
After 6 September the following beaches will be operational on weekends only from 11am to 7pm until Sunday 27 September; Benone Strand, West Strand, East Strand and Whiterocks.
RNLI lifeguards have adapted to new protocols this season due to the pandemic, to protect themselves and the public.
This has included wearing PPE, enhanced cleaning of equipment and maintaining a 2-metre distance from others while carrying out their role unless involved in a rescue at sea.
One day on Castlerock beach alone saw lifeguards rescuing six people caught in strong offshore winds at sea.
Lifeguards on East Strand beach have been dealing with three times the amount of incidents they would normally expect in a season.
RNLI lifeguards deal with a range of incidents, from sea rescues, to first aid and lost children.
Karl O’Neill, RNLI Lead Lifeguard Supervisor, said: “It has been an extremely busy summer for RNLI lifeguards with huge numbers of people visiting beaches in Northern Ireland.
“Our lifeguards have worked really hard and done a fantastic job of keeping people safe at the beach while working in a pandemic. They deserve great credit for the commitment and dedication they have shown.
“The majority of our lifeguards’ work is preventative so as well as the rescues and incidents they were involved in, they will have stopped many more potentially dangerous incidents before they occurred.
“We know many people are still on furlough and not holidaying abroad, so it’s likely more people than usual will be visiting the coast this September.
“If you’re visiting the beach, take note of the safety signage at the entrance, go with a friend or tell someone on the shore where you’re going, and always be aware of the conditions and your own capabilities in the water.
“People walking on the coast should check the weather forecast and tide times before setting out and carry a means of communication.”
Alderman Mark Fielding, Mayor of Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, added: “RNLI Lifeguards provide a vital service on beaches around the Causeway Coast and Glens area, educating beach goers and keeping residents and visitors safe.
“While our coastline is beautiful and inviting, the ocean can also be perilous and unforgiving, and we owe the RNLI a debt of gratitude for everything they do.
“With the easing of lockdown restrictions, we have welcomed large numbers of people to our beaches this summer, and the lifeguards have done an incredible job, especially given the challenges of working during a pandemic.”
If you’re planning a visit to a beach or the coast please follow this safety advice:
§ Have a plan – check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage
§ Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water
§ Don’t allow your family to swim alone
§ Don’t use inflatables
§ If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and float
§ In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard
RNLI lifeboat crews have been operating throughout the pandemic and continue to be on call 24/7 ready to respond to emergencies when their pager goes off.