Northern Ireland

RNLI: Lifeboat charity urges caution at sea

RNLI lifeboats
Image caption The RNLI has 10 lifeboat stations at beaches across Northern Ireland

In the summer months, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is as firm a fixture on our beaches as the ice cream man.

And despite the unpredictable weather, it is still peak season for both.

The charity is calling on people to take care when they are in the water and to go to beaches manned by RNLI lifeguards.

About 50 volunteers man the RNLI's 10 lifeboat stations across Northern Ireland.

Last year, they helped rescue 497 people on the coastline, inland areas and beaches across Northern Ireland.

'Dedication'

Jonathan Weston has been a volunteer crew member at RNLI Portrush for seven years.

Like many volunteers, he balances his charity work with a full-time job.

"We work one week on, one week off, so obviously in my week off it gives me plenty of opportunity to get stuck in with the crew, to do the training and go out on the shouts," he said.

"It's just something I've always done, I've always been interested in the sea."

Image caption RNLI volunteer Jonathan Weston said he gets 'great satisfaction' out of helping people

On what it takes to become an RNLI volunteer, he said: "You need to give a lot of dedication.

"There's a lot of work goes on behind the scenes with all the training and fundraising."

While he has taken part in dozens of rescues, each one presents its own unique challenges, said Jonathan.

"A couple of times it's been quite hairy but you try not to think about it. You just get on with it and do what you need to do.

"Every shout is different, you never know what you're going out to," he added.

"I get a great satisfaction out of helping people. It's always good for the community of Portrush too, putting a little back in."

'Rip currents'

The busiest day so far this year for the RNLI on the north coast was on 19 July when 38,500 people visited the eight beaches in the area that the charity looks after.

On that day there were five rescues carried out, 16 missing people were reported and 11 received first aid treatment.

Image caption It is often rip currents that put people in danger when they are in the water
Image caption The RNLI wants people to be aware of the dangers of swimming in the ocean and has urged them to be aware of their surroundings

The charity's lifeguards and lifeboat crews respond to everything from slips and stings to major open water search operations.

But they said it is often rip currents that put people in danger.

Karl O'Neill is the RNLI lifeguard supervisor for the Causeway Coast.

"People get out of their depth and then they panic, not aware of their surroundings," he said.

"The ocean isn't a swimming pool, there are things going on under the surface that you don't see on the surface.

Image caption RNLI lifeguard supervisor Karl O'Neill told the BBC that lifeguards are always happy to answer questions and help those in distress

"That's where we need to educate people more in those dangers."

Water safety

Mr O'Neill said the season has been "surprisingly busy" despite the mixed summer weather.

"When the weather is good the beaches are busy and that keeps the lifeguards and the lifeboat busy too," he said.

Image caption RNLI-manned beaches use a red and yellow flag system to show which areas are the safest to bathe in

Giving advice on water safety, he said: "If you're going to a beach, please go to an RNLI-lifeguarded beach.

"We have a red and yellow flag system to show the safest area to bathe for the day."

He stressed that the RNLI is there to help: "If you have any questions, approach the lifeguards who are experts in their field and will be happy to answer questions.

"If you're going to go out on a boat, please wear a life jacket and if you're ever in distress call the coastguard."

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