Here at St Michaels we’re lucky to be just metres away from one of Cornwall’s friendliest and (in our opinion) most beautiful beaches, Gyllyngvase beach. We know the lure of the sea and have spent many happy hours there enjoying the Cornish lifestyle, but the sea needs to be respected as it can be a dangerous place. That’s why we thought we’d take a stroll and talk to the lifeguards about how to stay safe at the beach, particularly Gylly. So, whether you’re a family visiting on holiday or a seasoned sea swimmer read on…
Meet Matt and Liam, our favourite two lifeguards at Gyllyngvase beach (it’s a hard job).
GENERAL BEACH SAFETY
Matt’s number one tip was to always visit a lifeguarded beach (with 54, including Gyllyngvase beach, in Cornwall alone it really doesn’t limit you). This way you know that there will always be someone on the beach between the hours of 10am – 6pm watching out for you and your family. It also means that the beach has been assessed for tide, winds and safety, which leads us onto the second tip…
ALWAYS ENTER THE WATER BETWEEN THE FLAGS
The RNLI have a flag system in place on all beaches to let you know where and when the water is safe to enter, swim and use body, surf and paddle boards (read more about it here). These guides mean that your chances of swimming in a dangerous area or colliding with a surfer are greatly reduced. Remember, lifeguards are there to ensure you avoid injury just as much as they are there to save you if you get into difficulty.
IF YOU'RE NOT SURE ABOUT ANYTHING - JUST ASK
Lifeguards are probably the most knowledgeable people on the beach – not only are they trained in sea safety, they are passionate about the ocean and many will have grown up surfing or swimming on the beaches they now protect. Liam and Matt, our Gyllyngvase lifeguards, have both worked in other areas of the beach, one as a water activities leader and the other running the local triathlon club. They’re also really friendly so don’t be afraid to approach them for a chat! There are also information boards at every beach which can give you information on the general conditions of that beach. (The ones on Gyllyngvase beach are situated to the right of Gylly beach cafe and on the sand opposite the main entrance to the beach).
The RNLI has a great website with loads more tips and advice on safety when doing water activities here.
Gyllyngvase is a sandy beach with a generally calm waters. This is why it is a hotspot for sea swimmers and paddleboarding. Matt and Liam shared their tips on staying safe at Gylly beach, whether you’re here with your family or thinking about going sea swimming. One thing they both stressed was that Gylly is a really safe beach – there isn’t much surf and, compared to many beaches in Cornwall, a low risk of a rip forming.
Many RNLI beaches have a child wristband scheme where you can write a number for the lifeguard to ring if your child is lost. However, as Gylly is a pretty small beach (and phone signal is patchy to say the least) the lifeguards here don’t need the wrist bands. If you do lose your child at the beach the lifeguards are the best people to go to. Missing kids at Gylly always get reunited with parents.
Looking out to sea from Gylly you may notice a line of yellow buoys stretching all the way to Castle Beach. These are 4 knot markers for boats, meaning that they have to sail at a slower speed close to the beach. It also means that boats are allowed up close to the beach so, watch out when swimming or playing in deeper water.
At low tide the rocks at either side of the beach are exposed and perfect to go nosing about in to get a closer look at some British sea life, but these rocks can also be hazardous. Liam suggests always wearing sensible shoes when going out to rock pools (so no flip-flops!) and be careful as wet rocks, especially ones with seaweed on, can be slippy. Luckily at Gylly the tide isn’t too much of a hazard but Matt and Liam both recommend keeping an eye on the water when venturing on to the rocks, especially if you decide to rock pool on Falmouth’s other beaches, like Castle Beach or Swanpool.
Gylly beach has a shelf in it, which means that the sand dips quite steeply and suddenly part way down the beach. This means that at low tide (when most of the beach is above water) the sea is shallow and gently gets deeper the further you go. However, at high tide the water gets very deep very close to the tideline. It’s here that kids especially, can quickly get out of their depth. Though the lifeguards recommend keeping children supervised at all times, you may need to be especially vigilant around high tide if they’re playing in the sea.
As a seasoned sea swimmer himself, Matt’s tips for swimming at Gyllyngvase beach are borne from years of experience…
WEAR SOMETHING BRIGHT
Always wear a bright hat or use a bright sea swimming inflatable that clips to your wetsuit zip (or better yet both). This way the lifeguard will still be able to see you even if there is a chop in the water that could reduce the visibility of a swimmer wearing dark colours. It’s also important to do this at Gylly as there are quite a few boats that use the shallow waters near the beach and you really don’t want to be hit by one of them!
DON'T GO ALONE
Even if you’re an experienced swimmer you can come into difficulty in the water (think cramp or exhaustion) and not be able to signal your distress to the lifeguards. Having someone there who can signal to the shore could really be the difference between life and death. When the Triathlon club train they have two lifeguards on paddleboards with the swimmers so safety is taken very seriously.
KEEP INSIDE THE YELLOW BUOYS
Not all beaches have these buoys but at Gylly they signal to any boats they cannot exceed speeds of over 4 knots. So, it’s safer for you to be in this area than out of it where the boats can go much faster.
We hope this has been informative for you, and we’d like to thank the RNLI and Matt and Liam the lifeguards for their time answering all our questions.