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Ready to Rescue - 100 RNLI Lifeguards Gear up for the Devon Season

PUBLISHED: 23:37 03 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 February 2013



Amy Caldwell looks behind the scenes as the RNLI lifeguards prepare for a new season on Devons Beaches. Photos by Nigel Millard.

Amy Caldwell looks behind the scenes as the RNLI lifeguards prepare for a new season. Photos by Nigel Millard.

Most beachgoers are used to the familiar and reassuring sight of RNLI lifeguards on Devons beaches. From May to September the charitys lifesavers provide safety cover on 16 of the countys beaches*. However, few people stop to think about the preparation it takes to get nearly 100 lifeguards trained and equipped on the beach in time for the season.

Jason Pendlebury-Jackson, the RNLIs Area Lifeguard Manager for the South Hams, explains that the groundwork starts a long time before any thoughts of a visit to the beach would be considered.

Although they might not start until May, he says, recruiting lifeguards begins as early as December. Were lucky as generally our return rate is usually really good, which means the lifeguards are already familiar with the beaches. However there are always a few gaps and well move people around to ensure theres a good mix of experienced and rookie lifeguards on each beach.

From January to March we test all the equipment, order new items and arrange the lifeguards personal kit. On a lot of the beaches the RNLI lifeguards work from temporary facilities, which come off the beach in the winter. These need to be replaced and fully equipped for the new season.

As with the volunteer lifeboat crews, the RNLI invests a lot of time and effort into ensuring the lifeguards receive the highest quality training, costing the charity 580 a year per lifeguard. Vaughan Lawson, RNLI Area Lifeguard Manager for North Devon, describes the intensive training programme the lifeguards complete before they go onto the beach.

All RNLI lifeguards apply with an internationally recognised beach lifeguard qualification, he syas. Once recruited, they go through the charitys Wet and Dry induction, which ensures they are equipped with the skills needed to lifeguard the beach. The two weeks covers rescue theory and practice as well as communication skills and the legal issues involved in being a lifeguard. Returning lifeguards do a condensed refresher version, as well as updating their skills in using the rescue equipment including the Inshore Rescue Boat, Rescue Water Craft and launch and recovery vehicles.

All the RNLI lifeguards complete a three-day First Aid course, which provides them with the appropriate knowledge needed to be first responders to the ambulance service, such as treating spinal injuries and using a defibrillator. On the more remote beaches, this is essential to ensuring the casualty gets medical treatment immediately, which can prevent their injuries from getting worse and even save their life.

Despite a contribution from the Local Authority or private beach owner, which goes towards the lifeguards wages, the charity relies on generous public support. Last summer the RNLI launched the South West Lifeguard Appeal, which aims to raise 500,000 by 2012, towards the 5 million a year it costs to provide a lifeguard service in the region.

The lifeguards themselves have embraced the fundraising challenge. Jason and two of his team who will paddle on surf skis the 50-mile stretch of operational coastline from Blackpool Sands near Dartmouth to Tregantle beach in south-east Cornwall to raise funds for both the RNLI Lifeguard Appeal and Bantham Surf Life Saving Club.

The paddle is planned for early September, says Jason, but weve already started training. We anticipate it taking about 10 or 11 hours, so it will be pretty gruelling!

For more information, and to make a donation to the RNLIs South West Lifeguard Appeal online, visit


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