A LIFEGUARD from South Tyneside is warning people not to try to be heroes if they see someone struggling in the water.
Phil Ritchie, who patrols Sandhaven Beach, South Shields, is urging people to seek professional help if they see others in trouble, rather than attempting to rescue them on their own.
The senior beach lifeguard says that 160 people die at the coast each year and that most people don’t know how dangerous swimming in the sea can be.
RNLI chiefs at Seahouses in Northumberland issued a warning after two incidents in which people had to be rescued after they went into the sea in an attempt to save others in trouble.
Now, lifeguards in South Shields are warning of the dangers and encouraging people to respect the water.
Mr Ritchie said: “One of the biggest problems is a lack of respect for the sea. People come down and go out into the water just like it’s a swimming pool. People don’t think of the dangers. There are really strong currents. The RNLI is currently running a Respect the Water campaign and we’re really pushing it.
“At Sandhaven beach there are always seven lifeguards on duty at any time and we’re split between the north unit, called Sandhaven, and the south unit near Trow Rock, called Mowbray, between 10am and 6pm from May to September.”
He added: “We’d really encourage anyone who’s coming down to the beach and who wants to swim in the sea to chat to us first and ask for some advice.
“We can tell people the best places to swim and how to stay safe and we’re always happy to answer questions and help out.” Mr Ritchie also says that if people see a swimmer get into trouble, they should seek help immediately.
He said: “If we’re on the beach, the definite first step is to come to us if we haven’t already seen what is going on and then we can alert the coastguard and seek appropriate help.
“If we’re not there, ring the coastguard immediately.
“People who go in to try and help someone are potentially putting themselves in danger.
“You’re much better off staying out of the water and keeping an eye on the situation so that you can tell the lifeguards or coastguard exactly where the trouble is.
“If you go into the water yourself, chances are you’ll lose sight of the person in trouble and you could end up in trouble yourself.
“We’re very lucky to have such a lovely coastline and we want people to come to the beach and enjoy themselves, but they need to be aware of the dangers and be careful.”