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Concern over ignored beach warnings

PUBLISHED: 10:33 25 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:51 30 June 2010

Stern warnings about beach safety in Norfolk were ignored amid an early-season heatwave, which sparked three lifeboat call-outs in two hours to rescue stranded day-trippers in north Norfolk.

Stern warnings about beach safety in Norfolk were ignored amid an early-season heatwave, which sparked three lifeboat call-outs in two hours to rescue stranded day-trippers in north Norfolk.

The hottest weather of the year brought sun-seekers in their thousands from across the country to the wide, sandy beaches of North Norfolk this weekend.

But six people needed to be brought to safety on Sunday after becoming cut off by a powerful incoming tide - despite a plea made by the RNLI last month for people to check tide times before venturing across exposed sands and marshland.

At 9.15am, Yarmouth coastguards requested the launch of the Wells inshore lifeboat to assist a woman trapped on a sand bank, but the crew were stood down after a passing kayaker ferried her ashore.

At 10.40am, the lifeboat rescued a Hertfordshire man and his two young children from a duned area known as Bob Hall Sands. And the team were in action again shortly afterwards to collect a father and his teenage son, who had travelled from Cambridgeshire.

Wells lifeboat coxswain Allen Frary said the call-outs were all preventable and implored visitors to heed the warnings, check tide times and ensure they were back across the channel at least four hours before high water.

“They are needless call-outs really,” he said. “It was the first real hot and sunny weekend of the year and it resulted in three shouts. People travel for hours to get here and I am convinced that when they arrive they switch their brains off and are not aware of the dangers which are here if they don't observe the rules.

“All the information is freely available, so there is no excuse for people not to know what the tide is doing.”

Tidal information can be found online or at prominent beach buildings in Wells, including the Coastwatch lookout hut, the Lifeboat station, the Harbour Office and a notice board in the Beach Road car park.

During the summer season a warning siren, comprising two 25-second blasts separated by an interval of 10 seconds will be sounded four hours before high water, based on observations of the water rushing into the harbour. The siren was not sounded on Sunday, because the unseasonably hot weekend fell before the beach warden's permanent watch begins on May 29.

Mr Frary said even the four-hour guideline could be subject to variations depending on shifts in the wind and other tidal anomalies.

“When you work on the beach all the time you get to know its habits,” he said. “Don't ask me why, but the morning tides here at around 10 or 11am are always early.

“It is a lovely walk out across the sands and away from the crowds, but you need to be across the channel and back on the beach four hours before high water in most circumstances.”

This stretch of coastline has seen similar instances in the past when people have been caught out by the ferocity of the tidal flow. In May 2008, 12 teenagers on a fishing trip were plucked to safety after rising waters stranded them on a sandbank. And in July 2007, a 15-year-old Tamil boy on a pilgrimage to Walsingham was swept to his death by a strong outgoing tide while swimming near Wells.

Yarmouth coastguard watch manager Matthew Thornhill said: “Whilst we want people to enjoy themselves, we would also like to remind members of the public to stay safe by checking the tide times before they venture out to ensure that they don't get cut off by the tide. Always tell someone where you are going and if you do get into trouble, or see someone in trouble at the coast, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.”


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