There's been a recent rise in beach-related incidents due to offshore winds and more rescues occurring, picking up people further out at sea.
Last weekend, our club lifeguard and volunteer water safety team had to act quickly when an individual was distressed, being blown off of Saltdean beach on a paddleboard. The situation at Hove beach involved the Coastguard and RNLI services, as children on a paddleboard were blown out to sea.
It is essential to be aware of the potential dangers that offshore winds can pose while enjoying your time at the beach, so we've put together our tips to help you stay safe in these conditions.
What is an offshore wind?
An offshore wind is a breeze that blows in the direction away from the shore, out to sea.
On lifeguarded beaches, there will often be an orange windsock flying or signs up saying "no inflatables," which include blow-up rings, lilo, and paddleboards. This is because if you're standing on top of a paddleboard, for example, you act like a giant sale and the minute the wind catches you, it will blow you and your inflatable further out to sea often more quickly than you can paddle back to shore.
At this stage of the season, with typically no lifeguard on the beach, you need to know what to look out for, to stay safe and understand the potential risks of going out in an offshore wind.
How to identify an offshore wind
If you're not aware of what it looks like, it's not always easy to spot, but there are a few signs that you can look out for:
Check the weather forecast
Before heading to the beach, check the local weather forecast for potential offshore wind warnings. On a weather chart, this is typically a black arrow pointing away from the coastline. Consider rescheduling if the risk is too high - it doesn't take much of a breeze to blow you out to sea.
Orange windsock flying
On most lifeguarded beaches there would be an orange windsock flying, indicating there is an offshore wind and/or a sign saying "no inflatables".
Flags on the beach / coast
Look for flags close to the beach and see which way they are blowing - if there is no lifeguard on duty or windsock, look out for flags blowing towards the sea, for example, the one above the cafe at Saltdean. Don't go out with your inflatables if it's blowing out to sea.
Flat sea conditions
The sea will often look extremely flat but you'll notice a darker line appearing in the sea as you look towards the horizon - this is where the wind is picking up, as close to the beach, the cliffs at Saltdean protect us.
Speak to other beachgoers
If you're unsure, talk to others who may have been out already or know the forecast.
Stay within designated swim/surf areas
Stick to areas patrolled by lifeguards, who can assist in an emergency or if you get caught in strong offshore winds. Swimming in designated swim areas identified by red and yellow flags or board areas identified by black and white flags, ensures you're in a safer part of the beach, with increased monitoring and lifeguard presence.
If you're unsure what the wind is doing, edge on the side of caution and don't take your inflatables in the sea.