HM Coastguard issues warning about hidden dangers of local swimming spots

HM Coastguard has issued a warning about the hidden dangers of the water at Tentsmuir Sands, Fife, following two incidents that could have proved fatal in recent weeks.

Both incidents involved multiple young people enjoying a sunny day at the coast but a rip current quickly turned the water – and their trip – more sinister.

Five people, four of whom were under 18 years old, required hospitalisation following incidents on subsequent days in mid-August. Coastguard rescue teams from Dundee, St Andrews and Leven were sent, alongside the Broughty Ferry RNLI and the search and rescue helicopter from Inverness, on both occasions.

One of HM Coastguard's search and rescue helicopters                                  Credit: Adrian Photography

Rip currents are powerful flows of water that can be hard to spot. They can sweep even the most experienced and strongest of people off their feet and out to deeper water in moments.

They tend to flow at 1–2mph but can reach 4–5mph, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Rips are especially powerful in larger surf, but never underestimate the power of any water. They are also found around river mouths, estuaries and man-made structures like piers and groynes.

The water can often look deceptively calm, with no wave activity in it. It may also be a different colour or rippled but it differs from the general pattern of the waves and can be spotted from the shore. If you can, always choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the yellow and red flags.

Ross Greenhill, Coastal Operations Area Commander for HM Coastguard, said: “Tentsmuir Sands is a popular spot for those looking to take a dip in sunny weather.

“It is a beautiful bit of our coastline but the water can be very dangerous with rip currents – and that can catch the best of swimmers out at any time, as we saw with two recent incidents.

“Neither turned fatal fortunately, but both so easily could have done, rip currents are very dangerous if you don’t know how to react.”

Dr Helen Dunne, Consultant Paediatrician with NHS Tayside said, "We want children and families to enjoy our local beaches but, to avoid a day out ending up in an unwanted hospital visit, please be aware of the coastguard's advice on safe swimming or paddling at beaches on the Scottish coast."

What to do if caught in a rip current:

  • Don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted.
  • If you can stand, wade don’t swim.
  • If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore.
  • Always raise your hand and shout for help.

If you see anyone in difficulties, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

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