Her Majesty’s Coastguard dealt with more than 300 incidents on Friday, July 31 – the most in one day for more than four years.
High temperatures (reaching almost 38 degrees Celsius in some places) along with the recent reopening of pubs, and more people at home due to coronavirus restrictions, created the perfect storm as many people took to the country’s beaches.
The total number of incidents for the whole of the U.K. on July 31 were 329, with 232 callouts for coastguard rescue teams. Lifeboats were called out 129 times, aircraft were sent out 22 times and hovercraft, three.
There was a high number of incidents involving people cut off by the tide and reports of missing children, as well as swimmers and paddleboarders getting into difficulty.
Callouts were heaviest in England, along the east and south coast and the north west. The area around Liverpool and the Wirral saw the most reported incidents at 26. The coast along Essex and Kent saw a total of 45 incidents and the coastline between Flamborough and Cromer, 22.
Julie-Anne Wood, Duty Operations Director for HM Coastguard said: “Yesterday was a beautiful day weather wise in much of the U.K. It was a less beautiful day for those who got themselves into trouble and had to be rescued. Some people will remember July 31 for all the wrong reasons.
“We completely understand that people want to enjoy the coast. We also know that even the most experienced swimmer, paddleboarder and walker can be caught out by currents and tides respectively. We’re heading into some more good weather and we would really ask you to check and double check the tide times – put a timer warning on a smartphone to remind you – be aware of things like rip currents, and make sure you have a means of contacting us if things do go wrong.
“As the figures show, we’ll always respond when someone calls 999 and asks for the Coastguard, we’ll always answer distress on VHF and we’ll always do everything we can to rescue those in need. All we ask in return is that you take extra care at the coast – it can be unmerciful to the unwary and even to those who know it well.”
Some local councils also turned people away from coastal areas after overcrowding made social distancing impossible and roads were jammed, restricting access for emergency services.
There have also been reports of drunken brawls breaking out on beaches over the early August weekend, and locals afraid to go out to buy essential groceries due to the number of tourists, many of whom were reported to be without the now mandatory face coverings.
The Coastguard may soon be getting some much needed help from drones, after the first national operational evaluation this weekend. Operated by Bristow, provider of the HM Coastguard Search and Rescue Helicopter Service, the drones launched from Caernarfon in Wales. They will provide supporting safety patrols across beaches, working alongside HM Coastguard’s helicopters. Initially, the drones will operate only at weekends for HM Coastguard with Bristow carrying on its routine testing during the week.
HM Coastguard is a core component of Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA). Last year, MCA’s civilian search and rescue helicopters responded to an average of seven callouts a day, saving more than 1,600 people. Overall, the MCA co-ordinated more than 22,000 incidents and rescued more than 7,000 people across the year.
MCA’s own evaluations have also begun to determine whether drones could boost missions by visiting rescue sites ahead of air, sea or land-based recovery teams to provide a full picture of the situation and develop the appropriate response.