Lifeboat rescues off the Norfolk and north Suffolk coast were down last year, but more needs to be done
- Credit: IAN BURT
Our lifeboat services are bucking a region-wide trend of increasing rescues, latest figures show.
Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) stations across the south-east England rescued more than 2,000 in 2016, up from 1,940 in 2015, prompting a safety warning for people to take more care at the coast and respect water.
But the figures show more of a downward trend for our region - encompassing stations from Hunstanton in west Norfolk to Southwold on the Suffolk coast.
These stations rescued 163 people last year, down from 226 in 2015.
But the number of launches in the same region was slightly up from 176 in 2015 to 187 in 2016.
Glen Mallen, RNLI lifesaving manager, said: 'Once again we are extremely grateful for the dedication shown by our lifesavers.
'Our volunteer lifeboat crews collectively spent in excess of 42,800 hours at sea, but we really do see our rescue service as a last resort.'
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And the kinds of emergencies different RNLI stations are called out to is also gradually evolving.
Allen Frary, Wells-next-the-Sea RNLI coxswain, said their station now responded to a lot more calls with its inshore boat than its all-weather boat.
He said: 'Years ago our biggest number of shout-outs were to people in the harbour at Wells, but that number has gone down tremendously.
'The trend now seems to be for people getting caught out at Burnham Overy and Scolt Head.'
Mr Frary said the station had made two launches within the past month to people out walking, caught by rising tides.
He said: 'These are our bread-and-butter jobs. Once the tide is out people can access the marshes and aren't aware it's coming in again a few hours later.'
Philip Smith, Happisburgh RNLI press officer, said call-outs also changed according to different trends in seaside recreation.
He said: 'A few years ago we got a lot of kite surfers and jet skiers off Happisburgh but we don't have as many anymore.'
Mr Smith said they had been replaced by people using inflatable dingies and even air-beds to paddle about on the waves.
He said: 'We had a few of those last year and we were out for quite a while searching, in case somebody was blown out with them.'
Mr Smith said that on one occasion, they spend 4.5 hours searching after an air-bed was found.
Renewed safety plea for coming year
Rescuers are hoping 2017 will avoid a repeat of last year's coastal tragedies, including the death of one man after a group of swimmers got caught in a riptide off Sea Palling.
Mr Mallen said the RNLI wanted people to give the water the healthy respect it deserved. He said: 'While we will always answer the call for help, I and everyone within the RNLI would like to see people staying safer at the coast.'
Mr Smith said awareness was paramount. He said: 'For years the RNLI has been brilliant at launching boats and going to the rescue but a lot of people are entering the water who never intended to.
'Some are following their dogs in, others are anglers falling off cliffs or jetties.
'They need to be aware of they dangers.'
Mr Smith said people should only swim where there was a lifeguard on duty, pay heed to any safety notices, and swimmers should make sure there was someone on the beach to call for help in case they got into trouble.
Big year for rescue crews
Nationally, 2016 was the busiest year for lifeboat launches since 2011.
Lifeboat crews rescued 8,643 people and saved an estimated 431 lives. Launches to people in the water increased by 25pc from 2015, and machinery failure continued to be the biggest reason for launching lifeboats.
Mr Mallen said: 'We're calling on anyone visiting the coast to make safety a priority, whether that means wearing a lifejacket, checking their vessel before they go afloat, knowing they should call 999 and asking for the Coastguard in the event of an emergency, checking the tide times before they set out, or staying away from cliff edges and unstable coastal paths.'
There will be a regional launch of the RNLI's Respect the Water campaign at the Norwich Forum on May 4, from 10am to 4pm.
Lifeguards and station staff will be on-hand to tell visitors about dangers along the coast, and advise them on how they can best stay safe while enjoying the water.