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Teenage lifeguard’s first solo rescue as RNLI issues further inflatables warning

Lifeguards News Release

Lifeguard Joe Whelan performed his first solo rescue on Thursday 15 August, helping a mother and her son who had drifted out to sea on an inflatable stand up paddleboard at Seaburn beach.

RNLI/Andy Brown

RNLI Lifeguard Joe Whelan

The incident was almost identical in nature to another rescue which took place at Seaburn last week.


Again, a mother and son on an inflatable stand up paddleboard had been blown out to sea in strong offshore winds. They were spotted north of the flagged zones near Whitburn Steel by lifeguards at their Seaburn base.


17-year-old lifeguard Joe Whelan quickly ran down the beach and paddled out to them on a rescue board. Both casualties had come off their board and were trying to swim it back to shore, but were still drifting out to sea. Joe instructed them to get back on their paddleboard and hold onto the back of his rescue board. He then towed the casualties back to the beach.


Both casualties were given a medical assessment on the beach and deemed free of any injuries. This was Joe’s first solo rescue since joining the RNLI’s full-time lifeguard staff at the start of the summer season.

Senior Lifeguard Andy Brown said: ‘Thanks to the early recognition of the danger by the lifeguards at base and the very fast response by Joe, we were able to stop this incident turning into something a lot more serious. Today Joe has showed ability and composure beyond his years in the speed in which he got to the paddleboarders, and the skill required to paddle against a strong offshore wind with two casualties in tow. Joe can be very proud of his first rescue as a Lifeguard.


‘I would urge people to check that the sea conditions are suitable before entering the water with any inflatable. Although they can be lots of fun, British and Irish waters can be dangerously unpredictable. If you see an orange wind windsock flying it means the wind is blowing offshore and is unsuitable for inflatables. If you are unsure, come and talk to a lifeguard before going in the water.’

The RNLI advises that inflatables are designed for pools, not the sea where they can easily be swept out. If you do use them at the beach, then:

  • ensure children are closely supervised
  • keep near the shore
  • only use between the red and yellow beach flags
  • follow the lifeguard’s advice
  • do not take inflatables out in big waves
  • never use them when the orange windsock is flying, as this indicates offshore winds which will blow inflatables further out to sea
  • f you do get into difficulty, then stay with your inflatable as it will keep you above the water.

For more information and safety tips, please visit: www.RNLI.org/RespectTheWater

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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