ALTHOUGH summer has been a bit of a wash-out this year there have been a few sunny days when I’ve been able to head out to the beach to catch some rays.
But as I, and fellow sun worshippers, top up our tans it’s easy to forget about the people who work behind the scenes to keep us safe while we enjoy ourselves.
I had the chance to meet with Seaford Lifeguards and find out more about the role they play on one particularly blustery Sunday morning.
The team is made up of 26 hardy volunteers who patrol the beach on weekends and Bank Holidays between May 1 until the end of September.
The charity has recently received a boost by being named as a ‘declared facility’ with Her Majesty’s Coastguard. This means the team is mobilised as soon as a 999 call has been made, saving valuable minutes in getting to a victim.
The organisation was also awarded the top volunteer lifeguard team in the UK for the second year running by the national governing body SLSGB and a prize of £500 worth of uniform.
These are just some of the achievements the Seaford Lifeguards can be proud of since it was established in 1970.
During my visit I met with Will Morris, a senior lifeguard and trainer.
The 19-year-old started out with the team seven years ago and has been on courses such as the VHF radio course and surf lifesaving training and Inshore rescue boat training to top up his skills.
The teenager, who joined up because he wanted to support the community, remembers one particular incident where a man had been pulled unconscious from the sea by a member of the public.
He said, “I had to perform CPR on him. It was the first time so it has stuck with me. Sadly the man died.
“We had back-up from quad bikes, they are essential to us.”
During the incident the team brought along one of its two defibrillators, which are equally vital to the team and were donated by the Sussex Heart Foundation.
I spoke to Will at the group’s head quarters located above the rugby club in the Salts. There is also a satellite lifeguard post near the Martello Tower.
Determined to find out first-hand what they do, I went out in the Arancia Inshore rescue boat with Will and fellow senior lifeguard and team medic Liam Scott.
As I donned a wet suit and life jacket for the outing, I began to feel more nauseated as they prepared me for the possibility I could fall into the water.
It’s probably important to mention that I’m not a huge fan of the sea. I’m not a strong swimmer, don’t like putting my head under water and if I’m swimming in the sea I’ll never venture further than a few metres out. As we headed off I clung onto the rope handles for dear life. Despite the waves being a bit choppy it was surprising how well the boat coped and the pair explained to me that with its powerful engine it has handled much rougher seas.
I was given the chance to jump in the sea and wait for the pair to circle round and help me back on the boat to have a brief insight into how a rescue could be conducted.
Despite wanting to rise to the challenge and knowing I was in safe hands I politely declined the offer and instead watched amazed as Will leaped into the sea while Liam and I headed off in the boat and back to collect him.
We then rode out to Splash Point where they explained how two Lithuanian visitors had got into trouble there after being cut off by the tide. The lifeguards leapt into action but the pair had to be airlifted to safety because the sea was too rough to get a rescue boat to them.
But it’s not just those at sea that play a key role at Seaford Lifeguards. Ellen Woolger is the control operator in addition to fundraiser and social secretary and explained how important it is to relay information.
She said, “You’ve got to be precise and remain calm in an emergency situation.
“If you come across to the guys out there as calm it helps to keep the situation nice and calm.”
Sue White is a parent helper who has been supporting the charity’s many fundraisers and was taking part in a boot fair on the day we met. She decided to support the cause because both her sons are lifeguards.
Elsewhere Ann Bartlett, who runs the Martello Base, has a particularly poignant reason for joining.
She said, “I was in Newhaven watching my daughter drown and called the coastguards.
“The lifeboat risked their lives to rescue her, it was the worst rescue they had ever done.”
Her role has seen her involved in incidents including searching for missing children to helping a baby seagull caught on a fishing hook.
Seaford Lifeguards wouldn’t be complete without chairman and equipment officer Pete Gwilliam.
He took me out on one of the group’s quad bikes. As we rode up to Seaford Head it was easy to see why they are an important piece of equipment which work on the beach, the hills and drastically cut the time it takes to get from A to B in an emergency.
I enjoyed having a go in the driver’s seat and experiencing first hand how powerful the bikes are as we travelled along the beach.
Back at the main base Pete explained how the group has changed over the years, “We were very male dominated, then we had our first couple of girls join us and things blossomed from that and we’re very pleased to be 50/50 with male, female members.
“All our lifeguards are very competent and I would trust my life to any one of them.”
When they’re not training, the volunteers are busy fundraising and every year visit local schools to pass on an important water safety message to pupils.
Pete believes the main reason many people get into difficulty in Seaford’s sea is because they don’t understand how it is formed. He said, “We have a lovely beach, the water quality and shingle is clean, it’s a smashing beach.
“What people don’t understand is that the prevailing wind here is onshore. It hits the beach dead square on and we have a stepped beach. One minute you can be in knee deep in water and the next you’re up to your chest. People can get in, but can struggle to get out, as the shingle moves under their feet.”
As well as continuing with the safety message there are also future plans for the lifeguards to buy a much-needed spare engine and a second Arancia rescue boat totalling £9,000.
The team is currently getting to grips with a new item being donated by a friend of the organisation who lives in the USA. It is called 02 Fur Life. These are oxygen masks that are designed for use on dogs which might get into difficulty while enjoying an outing on the seafront with their owner.
Having seen how the team operates and feeling the physical effects – my body was aching the next day from simply sitting on the boat – I take my hat off to the team and the job they do.
But it would not exist if it wasn’t for the time the volunteers give and without donations. If you would like information on joining or to find out more please visit: www.seafordlifeguards.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org