Following yesterday’s tragic accident at Northcott beach, where a mother sadly drowned, the national press have made a big issue out of the fact that RNLI lifeguard cover had ceased the day before. The woman, a holidaymaker according to press reports, was seemingly swept into the sea when trying to rescue her two sons, aged 11 and 13, who had got into difficulty with a rip current while bodyboarding.
Locals know that Northcott is one of the quieter beaches, and lifeguard cover, based upon risk assessments, is peak season only. Maybe that risk will now be re-assessed. Locals know it as a fantastic beach but with a “mean rip”. Other more populated beaches in the area do, of course, have lifeguard cover further into September, including the main beaches at Summerleaze and Widemouth Bay. It is truly unfortunate that the family chose to visit Northcott yesterday instead of the guarded beaches. As Bude Tourist Information advises: “visit lifeguard patrolled beaches” (or Bude’s sea pool). That said, it is the quietness of beaches like Northcott that is part of its attraction for visitors, and certainly for locals.
The event is sad indeed, and one which no one wants to see repeated. The Daily Mail suggests there were six incidents last week at Northcott, but it had been unduly busy; interestingly, no press report seems interested in the success stories though, for there were no other fatalities or major casualties, so far as I’m aware. Certainly, in the wake of any tragic accident then re-assessment is needed of what kind and degree of lifeguard cover is needed where. Some beaches, of course, such as Duckpool, are not staffed by lifeguards at all; the warnings are there for all to see and you take your chance if you go there. Ditto even the main beaches come October, when lifeguard cover ceases altogether.
Let’s look at a rather less sensationalist piece than the Daily Mail’s rendition. The Guardian explains that lifeguards had taken just 4 minutes to drive across the beach from Summerleaze when alerted, and they had got the woman out of the water within 2-3 minutes of arriving. That is an amazingly quick response time! And fantastic work by the lifeguards on duty.
This was indeed a tragic accident, which has left the whole of Bude reeling; one can feel nothing but the utmost sympathy for the family. Bude has an excellent RNLI lifeguard service, on the main beaches once the main summer break is over. As the RNLI advise: “We strongly recommend that anyone heading to the beach – particularly those planning to go in the water – should choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, which is the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards.In areas where the lifeguard season is coming to an end, people can help keep themselves safe by finding out about their chosen beach before they go, and reading safety signs at the beach entrance to make themselves aware of the local hazards.”
Northcott remains a wonderful beach; the power of the sea is never to be under-estimated and we’ve all had a stark reminder of that safety advice. Today, the beach at Northcott was fairly – and understandably – deserted, apart from other regular local dog walkers, but the national press labelling it ‘death beach’ will do Bude, which has a very good beach safety record, no good at all.