Coastguards' books for children

STEPHEN PULLINGER Vital seconds are being lost in sea rescues because more than half of beach-goers do not realise they can dial 999 and ask directly for the coastguard.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Vital seconds are being lost in sea rescues because more than half of beach-goers do not realise they can dial 999 and ask directly for the coastguard.

Coastguards yesterday emphasised their role as an emergency service in their own right - alongside the police, fire and ambulance services - as they launched their annual beach safety campaign, Sea Smart.

Sea Smart aims to cut the number of life-threatening incidents on beaches by encouraging children under 14 and their parents to follow a simple code.

It recommends youngsters to spot the dangers, always go with a friend, find and read the safety signs, and in an emergency, stick their hands up and shout, tell a lifeguard or dial 999 for a coastguard.

Bill Austin, acting watch manager at the regional coastguard headquarters at Haven Bridge House, Yarmouth, said: "We are obliged to answer 999 calls in 10 seconds and we pride ourselves in doing that.

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"However, many people don't think of the coastguard as a rescue service and automatically ask for the police when they dial 999. Potentially vital seconds are then wasted while the call is diverted.

"The lack of awareness is not down to complacency on our part. There is a lot of literature out there spelling out the message, 'dial 999 and ask for the coastguard', and all beach telephones give that instruction."

Mr Austin highlighted Gorleston lifeboat's rescue of nine-year-old Jade Kerrison, who fell in the River Yare last week, as an example of how important seconds could be - only the crew's quick response saved her from a strong current and cold water.

The Sea Smart campaign can be seen as especially relevant on the east coast because prevailing south-westerly winds tend to blow youngsters on inflatables out to sea.

Mr Austin said: "The danger is particularly apparent if you get hot weather and crowded beaches combined with an offshore breeze. On occasion we have had to deal with 30 incidents in a single day - and there might be four incidents running at the same time."

Last year, along the coast from Southwold to Lincolnshire, there had been 27 beach incidents involving lifeguards, coastguard teams or lifeboats in June, 53 in July and 45 in August. The figures for incidents involving pleasurecraft were 33 in June, 61 in July and 30 in August.

To cut the dangers, coastguards will be distributing Sea Smart packs with activity books to youngsters on the beach and handing out wristbands for mobile phone numbers so lost children can be swiftly reunited with their family.

Mr Austin said the public's lack of awareness of beach safety seemed a particular issue on our coastline because many holidaymakers came from inland areas.

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