How to stay safe on the Norfolk coast

Scolt Head Island from the air, 1999. Picture: Mike Page

Scolt Head Island, where it is easy to get cut of by the tide - Credit: Mike Page

Wide expanses of open sand look so inviting on a summer's day as the horizon shimmers and the tide retreats far into the distance.

But it's so easy to get caught out and find yourself trapped when it comes back in again.

Parts of the Norfolk coastline are notorious for people getting cut off by the tide. Scolt Head Island, Brancaster and the marshes at Wells are particularly dangerous during so-called spring tides, along with Hunstanton's shifting sandbanks.

RNLI safety poster

A safety poster produced by the RNLI - Credit: RNLI

These are periods when the flood tides are at their highest and the ebbs at their lowest. People are often tempted to walk across to Scolt Head, the wreck off Brancaster or explore wells marshes, without realising that as the tide comes back in, it will flood gullies behind them meaning they will quickly get cut off by fast flowing water.

Nick Ayers, the RNLI's regional head of water safety, said: "The likes of Brancaster, Scolt Head, Wells and Hunstanton are all prone to these interlocking sand bars. When the tide changes the banks and the bars get cut off very quickly by the tide and you can get into difficulty or danger.

"At Brancaster in particular people head out to the wreck, the SS Vina. We're not saying don't head out there, we're saying don't risk it if you don't know what you're doing, we're trying to raise awareness that the water does fill in around those bars very quickly.""

Three sisters who were rescued clinging to a buoy at Brancaster in 2019 would almost certainly have been swept away and drowned had the Hunstanton lifeboat not raced to their assistance. A brave crew member dived into the sea to rescue them.

The wreck at Brancaster

Sightseers are urged to stay away from the wreck at Brancaster, to avoid getting cut of by the tide - Credit: Archant

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This month, the highest tides are predicted from Thursday July 8 to Friday, July 16 and from Thursday, July 22 to Friday, July 30.

During August, the highest tides will be from Saturday, August 7 to Sunday, August 15 and Saturday, August 21 to Sunday, August 29.  

Low water falls during the afternoon at times between both sets of dates, meaning people unfamiliar with the area may be tempted to stray into danger by venturing out onto the sands.

HunstantonAnnual tradition where the Skegness lifeboat crew and the Hunstanton lifeboat crew excha

Hunstanton's RNLI crew is frequently called out to rescue people who have been cut off by the tide - Credit: Colin Finch

At peak times during the holiday season, when thousands flock to the coast, the Hunstanton and Wells lifeboat crews are called out to rescue sightseers on an almost daily basis.

Checking the tide times is common sense on any visit to the seaside. No-one wants to turn up and find there's no beach because it's high water and it's covered by the sea.

The RNLI warns anyone walking along so-called intertidal areas, such as sandbanks, should always be aware of tide times and ensure that they have a safe means of returning to safety.

That means be aware of the state of the tide and don't hang around when it starts coming in again. If walkers find themselves in danger, they should call 999 immediately and not try to swim ashore.

The RNLI also offers the following safety advice:

  • Before you head out, make sure it's safe. Check the tide tables. You can find out more information about tides in your area through tide tables, apps, weather news or local websites. You can also get local tidal information from the Harbour Master, tourist information centre and some seaside retail outlets.
  • Keep your mobile phone well charged and in a waterproof pouch. If you get into difficulty or see someone else who is, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.
  • While you're out, be aware of your surroundings and the tide's direction.
  • Where possible, visit an RNLI lifeguarded beach, and if entering the water, do so between the red and yellow flags.
The Eastern Daily Press has launched the Play It Safe campaign urging the public to be water aware.

The Play It Safe campaign is urging the public to be water aware. - Credit: Archant

If you would like to support our Play It Safe water safety campaign, posters can be ordered for free(you will only pay for postage) from: