Protecting lives on Southsea beach

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Now the weather is warming up, a bank holiday is just around the corner and those sunny summer days spent lazing the time away on Southsea beach don’t seem too far away

Whether it be paddling with the children or going farther out for a swim, it can be great fun.getting into water fights with your friends.

RNLI full time lifeguard Elsa Chapman rescues Felicity Elliott of the RNLI from the water. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (131378-4)

RNLI full time lifeguard Elsa Chapman rescues Felicity Elliott of the RNLI from the water. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (131378-4)

But alongside the fun and games, the open water in the Solent waters can be very dangerous too.

With rip tides and, busy shipping lanes, and weak swimmers, safety is paramount - and that’s where members of the Portsmouth and Southsea Voluntary Lifeguard Club play such an important role.

Next monththey’re teaming up with the RNLI , which is putting on an intensive training course , using the Southsea club’s using their facilities, for prospective lifeguards.

Felicity Elliott, 26, lives at Southsea and is ann RNLI lifeguard supervisor. She says: ‘Lifeguarding is a really good skill to have because you’re learning very valuable first aid skills and a lot of water work.

‘You can have fun doing it as well because a lot of the job is making people more aware of water safety.

‘Maybe 99 per cent% of what we do is educate people about the dangers of being in the water. We want people to go and talk to the lifeguards.’

For one week from June 29, the RNLI will be running an intensive course in Southsea alongside the Southsea-based club for people to get their National Beach Lifeguarding Qualification.

Felicity says: ‘It’s a mixture of first aid and life support, as well as beach lifeguarding and water rescue. The course has a basic fee of £75 but that covers the training, the kit and it gives them a year- long membership to the Southsea club.

‘They have to be more than 16 years oldover 16 and be able to swim 400 metres in eight minutes in a forward- facing stroke.’

The RNLI has more than 330 lifeboats and patrols at more than 200 beaches nationwide, but this will be the first time it has been in Portsmouth, with three stations across the beaches through the summer months.

Putting on the training course is a way of working with the local clubs.

Felicity explains: ‘We have a strong volunteer ethos and hopefully this will build a stronger pool of lifeguards in the Portsmouth area. If there is a high levelnumber of interest we would look to put on another courseone next season.

‘Thesey are vital skills that will stay with you for life, and one day might save athe lifve. of another.’

The Portsmouth and Southsea Voluntary Lifeguard Club, which will be helping with the training of the lifeguards during their Tuesday sessions, patrols at the Southsea beach between May and September.

The oldest organised lifeguard club in the UK, this year it’s celebrating 80 years since its formation in 1933.

Anne White, who lives at Hayling Island, has been the chairman of the club for more than 20 years and a member for more than 40. Her husband and children are also involved.

She says: ‘We’re the first place to call when there’s a problem in the area. In the winter we train at the Mountbatten Centre pool in Portsmouth for two hours every week doing land training and water work. During the summer months we do training on a Tuesday so members can sharpen up their skills – we’re always doing something.’

When the volunteers reach the beach each day they will ring up the coastguard and let them know the facilities they have available.

Anne explains: ‘We let them know whether we have a big boat or, the smaller boat and they log it all. They will call out the rescue boat. They know what we have and how close we might to be to an incident, so it’s easy to use us if we’re so close by.’

And working with the RNLI will mean there’s more coverage across Portsmouth beaches, and hopefully less of a chance of incidents in the sea.

Anne explains: ‘It’s important for us all to work together. We are all in the business of saving lives and preventing accidents. We are going to help with the training and the intensive course to give them the local knowledge.

‘We only have the resources to cover our beach from the Pyramids Centre to the South Parade Pier, so having the RNLI here will hopefully bring more coverage.’

The Southsea club is part of the Solent Sea Rescue Organisation, alongside various other lifeguard clubs in the Portsmouth area, and is affiliated to the Royal Lifesaving Society.

Anne says: ‘We run training so people can get the national do their awards and they work towards that in their training. That includes pool work, boat work and rescue skills. We tend to get a few locals who come along in the summer, and people who are part of swimming clubs, who are interested in joining up.

‘But, aside from the intensive course with the RNLI, any new members will now have to wait until September to join up now because in the summer we concentrate on patrolling with our current team members.’

And it’s important they do because there are various aspects at the beach which can cause problems for swimmers.

Anne explains: ‘We have big trouble with the ferry wash. Also, people tend to swim out to get something and end up in a shipping lane which is quite dangerous.

‘We have boats but we just want people to be careful. We tell people to talk to the lifeguards before they get in the water and there are signs with information. We hope in the future, especially working with the RNLI, wthat we’ will be able to raise the profile of safe swimming in Southsea.’

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