Beach lifeguards help find 7,000 lost children in five years

By Amy Gladwell
BBC News Online

Image source, RNLI
Image caption,
England's busiest beaches, such as Perranporth in Cornwall, can host thousands of visitors a day in the summer

Lifeguards have helped find almost 7,000 lost children on English beaches in five years, the BBC has learned.

Crowded beaches in popular holiday spots such as Devon and Cornwall can each see up to 40 cases in a single day during the summer, the RNLI said.

HM Coastguard said its operations centres had been inundated with related 999 calls in recent hot weather and it used "significant resources".

It issued a plea for parents to "know where their children are at all times".

Image source, RNLI
Image caption,
In 95% of cases lost children are reunited with their families within an hour, the RNLI said

Mark Rodaway, duty commander for UK Coastguard, said: "It's always a huge worry when children go missing near the beach - not just for the parents but for our coastguards as well."

The RNLI said its main concerns were the risk of children being swept into the sea and drowning, or slipping on cliffs and getting injured.

Image source, Alison Caldwell
Image caption,
Leone went missing on the beach in what his mum Alison called a "really scary" experience

Alison Caldwell said "panic set in" when she lost her eight-year-old son Leone on a beach in Cornwall in June.

"My initial fears were that he'd wandered too close to the water and been swept out to sea," she said. "I was scared as the gravity of the situation began to dawn on me."

She said she was very grateful when he was found at the water's edge after a few minutes, with help from a lifeguard.

Ben Gardiner, lifeguard supervisor on Perranporth beach in Cornwall, said it was always a "terrifying" scenario.

"On a really busy day we can deal with up to 40 lost children, and it's a really scary situation for both the parents and child," he said.

Image source, RNLI
Image caption,
The RNLI issues wristbands at the busiest beaches for children to wear showing their parents' phone numbers

While patrolling the sea and rescuing people from the water was a priority, Mr Gardiner said, he stressed reuniting lost children with their families was part of a lifeguard's official role - and the number of incidents was taken into account when planning staffing.

Mr Gardiner said all 6,989 lost children in the past five years had been safely reunited with their families and people should never hesitate to alert lifeguards for help.

How to avoid losing children on the beach

  • Keep an eye on your children at all times
  • As soon as you arrive at the beach, locate the lifeguards; make sure your children know what they look like in their red and yellow uniforms and who to head to if you get separated
  • When arriving at the beach, establish your location, look for a recognisable landmark and discuss it with your children
  • Ask the lifeguards if they operate a wrist band scheme on which you can write your phone number so someone can contact you if your child is found
  • If you do lose your children, alert the lifeguards as soon as possible

Source: RNLI