Seafront Officers are urging residents and visitors to stay safe and keep away from the sea this winter.
The warning comes as the Christmas holiday season approaches and mild winter weather draws more people onto the beaches.
“Everyone enjoys a bracing stroll on the promenade over the festive season but we would urge people to stay on the path or high up on the beach, especially when the sea conditions are rough,” said Brighton & Hove City Council’s Seafront Manager Chris Ingall.
Chris explained how the beach at Brighton & Hove differs from other south coast beaches and has hidden dangers.
“Unlike many other beaches, where you can gradually enter the water, Brighton & Hove beach has a steep shingle slope making it difficult to leave and enter the water especially during the four hours over the high tide period,” he said.
“The combination of winds coming in from multiple directions and steep shingle banks increases the risk of being swept out to sea.”
Dog owners are also being advised to keep their pets on leads and away from the shoreline in rough sea conditions. The recent Youtube footage of a woman being swept off her feet by powerful and crashing waves as she attempted to rescue her dog, captured the dangers of entering the sea.
“The woman had a very lucky escape,” said Chris. “If she had been any deeper in, that wave would have come behind her, over the top of her, and pushed her down into deep water. Fortunately, the force of the water pushed her back up the beach, otherwise there could have been a very different outcome.”
Parents are advised to keep a close eye on children, holding their hands when on the beach and stopping them from playing ‘chicken’ with the surf washing up the beach.
The council will once again be taking extra measures to discourage swimmers from taking a Christmas Day dip by closing access to the beaches around Brighton Pier.
“As open water swimming has become more popular over the last 5 years, we are seeing more groups of swimmers gathering for winter swim sessions,” said Chris. “It is extremely important that those wishing to enjoy this invigorating and extreme form of free and healthy activity, fully understand the real dangers involved.
“Cold water sea swimming takes skill, stamina and knowledge of the physical dangers and should only be for the very experienced, using suitable wetsuits, in very calm conditions and with friends. Even on a calm day sea currents, unpredictable waves or a sudden change in weather can create life threatening hazards without warning. Even experienced swimmers can get caught out.
“Check the conditions on the day and consider all those in the group, the sea will be there tomorrow, don’t take unnecessary risks, that could threaten your life or others trying to help!”
Chris added that the seafront team is always happy to advise swimmers on sea conditions. “We have constant updates on the weather conditions and would urge anyone wondering whether it’s safe to swim to ask us first.”
Regular beach goers can pick up a copy 2018 tide tables for Brighton & Hove from the Seafront Office. The timetables, which cost £1, are designed and produced by seafront officers using information provided by the National Oceanography Centre.
Information also includes a map showing lifeguard stations and a list of seafront events.
These Winter Water Facts, endorsed by the RNLI, show why it is better to stay on the shore rather than in the water at this time of year:
• Sea temperatures in the winter months are about 8 degrees centigrade and can be even colder.
• Even on an apparently clear sunny day, the sea temperature can drop body temperature quickly and fatally.
• It only takes a few minutes for the body’s core temperature to drop by two degrees and for the onset of hypothermia to begin.
• It is never safe to go into the sea after drinking alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol speeds up the onset of hypothermia in cold water. Drinking also reduces your capabilities. You may also think you are a better swimmer than your true ability and take unnecessary risks.
• Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition or taking medication runs additional risks by subjecting their body to a sudden drop of temperature by entering the sea.
• Winter environmental conditions can be extremely challenging, even for the most experienced swimmers. The tide and the weather dictate the conditions and these should not be underestimated.
• There is no beach lifeguard service provision in place during the winter months
• Large crashing waves close to the shore can place emergency services’ lives at risk and make it impossible to reach those in need.