The Buoys are Back in Town

The summer season is here in Brighton and Hove. The Swim Area Buoys and lifeguards have returned to our beaches but there have been a lot of changes to their service. This blog explains the 2020 Lifeguard Service and advice on swimming safely through the summer.

The much anticipated arrival of the iconic yellow ‘SWIM AREA’ buoys is finally here. They are safely anchored off Brighton and Hove’s beaches but they aren’t quite the same………

As a group, we try to encourage all local residents of all swim abilities to join us in the sea. Our aim is to create a community space for people to enjoy the water and provide a way for swimmers to manage their mental health and wellbeing. The summer is great time to start and as we re-opened the group to new members this week we have already seen lots of new Salties joining our flock. So as a warm welcome to warmer seas we’d like to share the story of our swims, the iconic Brighton Buoys and our summer season lifeguard service. Particularly as C19 has meant significant changes to the Seafront service and we want our flock to swim safely.

As the waters warm, our numbers inevitably grow. This year we are unable to share our swims with more than 5 other Salties. The beauty of the bigger regular swims is you will find someone that meets your swim needs. They swim the same stroke as you, the same speed as you, the same distance as you and eats the same cake as you. Some of us will swim out and round the buoys, some won’t. Some will paddle, some will float, some will swim for long distances. Whatever works for you. But in the spirit of inclusivity we swim at the speed and to the distance of our most relaxed swimmer if we meet as a group, and we ask our swimmers to be mindful of this as new Salties join us.

Normally the SWIM AREA buoys would arrive in early May ready for the lifeguard season to start on Brighton and Hove’s beaches over the May Half Term. Due to C19 there has been a delay. Brighton and Hove normally has 14 lifeguarded beaches  and the swim area buoys mark out an area that is safe to swim in if the yellow and red flags are flying and a lifeguard is on duty.  They are not there for swimmers to swim round although many use them as markers to swim too and roughly measure the distance of their swim. If you were to see a bird’s eye view of them you would see they are never parallel and move around quite a bit in bad weather so it is a very rough measurement .

The season normally runs from May to September with the outer posts of Saltdean, Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Hove Lagoon opening from July to September, as the schools break up. There can be between 1-3 lifeguards per post depending on how busy that particular beach is. The more popular touristy beaches by the Palace Pier have more lifeguards. All the beach lifeguards are supported by a lifeguarded boat that patrols daily and the Seafront staff and co-ordinators (the staff on the quad bikes).

This year, the most noticeable change is the late arrival of the SWIM AREA buoys and their position in the water. They are not in sets of 5 in front of lifeguard posts (Pic 1). Instead they are dotted along the shoreline, roughly (and only roughly see pic 2) parallel with each other from the Palace Pier to Hove Lagoon. There are no buoys east of the Palace Pier. Instead of indicating lifeguard posts the buoys are to prevent jet skis and boats from coming to close to shore to protect water users.

 

These buoys are not to be confused with the boat lane buoys. These too are yellow but a different shape. However, from a distance, and now the buoys are in a parallel line alongside the boat buoys, it is hard to see the difference. These buoys look like the picture below and are there to indicate where boats can approach to and from the shore. If you don’t want to get hit by a boat – don’t swim in these lanes. The boat lane buoys line up with yellow posts on the beach as per the picture below. This one to the west of King Alfred is by the boat winches and normally has kayaks locked to it. So if you can’t see the shape of the buoy from the shore – look for a post.

As there are no inner buoys yet this year and a limited lifeguard service the Sea Front Office have requested that swimmers do not swim out to the buoys to reduce the number of rescues they have to perform and the risk to their lives from the sea and C19 infection from swimmers. This is the most common rescue they perform. Swimmers head out for the buoys and when they get there can be too tired to swim back, not realise they made it there on a tidal current or offshore wind and don’t have the ability to get back, or get there and realise how far they are from shore and freeze both in temperature and ability to move.

We’ve had a few ‘hold your breath’ moments within our flock. Last summer, on the first day of the lifeguard seasons a new Salty asked another swimmer if they thought she’d be able to swim out to the buoy. The other swimmer, innocently replied yes and so a group set out on her maiden voyage. When the new swimmer got to the buoy it was clear this wasn’t the right decision, the lifeguard was attracted and a board rescue ensued. The lesson here is you need to take responsibility for your own assessment of the conditions and your capability. If you are asking someone else the question can I swim that far, or for that long etc the answer is no. We’ve also had a new swimmer not only to the group but to Brighton join a group swimming around the West Pier. The swimming group had made it clear on the swim invitation that is wasn’t a usual group dip of handstand performing, cake and a natter afterwards but a long swim around the pier.  The new swimmer still joined and  got into significant difficulty as she wasn’t used to the cold temperatures, the strong currents and also put the lives of the others swimmers in danger as they stayed in the water to help her back to shore.

We understand, that for some swimmers having goals and targets gives you something to strive towards but this must be done safely. If you wish to increase your time in the water, build up to it slowly and stay close to the shore so you can exit quickly.  Another way to measure your swim distance is to move parallel to the shore and count the groynes. These are roughly 100 metres apart and allow you to stay in shallower water and closer to a safe exit point. If you wish to swim to the buoys consider going at slack tide on a spring low with no wind. Don’t forget to wear a tow float and a bright coloured hat, preferably orange or pink.

So as to changes to the Lifeguard Service. They start today! (Saturday 13th June) Hooray. They will operating on the beaches by King Alfred and between the Palace and West Pier only to begin with. If and when this changes we will publish updated information in the group. Opening up additional posts and putting out buoys closer to shore and to mark out swim areas are under discussion. The current lifeguard posts are larger and will have 6 lifeguards per post – 3 operating each half of the post. They will be working a reduced day from 11am-5pm.  We will no longer be able to leave our bags and belongings with them as it would pose a cross contamination risk. However, they are still happy to answer any of your questions of give you advice, just be mindful to stay 2ms or they will have to put on their face masks.   They will have boards close to their posts indicating tide times and sea conditions. There will be increased water patrols on boards and the boat will be joined by volunteer crew on Surf Lifesaving Club boats at the weekends.

To me the buoys mean summer, clear seas and double dip days. Yes I swim to them, round them, under them, photograph them. One of these years I’m going to clean them. But I do it when the conditions are right, I am in the right frame of mind and  I have the energy. Sometimes I don’t know if all the buoys are aligned to mean a swim to them is an option until I get to the beach, see who else is there and see if the sea is playing ball. I’m quite happy to change my plans to perfecting my handstands, searching for crabs on the sea bottom or just floating. The sea is most definitely my mistress and dictates my swim!

However you decide to swim with, however long you stay in, wherever you swim to and from, do it safely and have a wonderful summer of sea swims

Useful Resources

  • How to read sea condition forecasts – this blog written by local Sea swimmer Freja and explains how to read the Magic Seaweed App
  • Other useful apps are windguru, buoyweather and Imray
  • The seafront has a number of webcams to get an idea of the sea conditions before you leave home. They can change quickly though so be prepared to change you plans.
  • How to swim in cold water safely – this blog focuses on mitigating the risks of swimming in cold water. Even in the summer the sea can be cold!
  • Water quality is measured by various organisation around Brighton and Hove. Surfers Against Sewage have a Safer Seas app that provides warnings if the water quality is low.
  • Seafront Office are happy to give advice. They cannot give you individual advice on whether it is safe for you to swim but can provide answers to general queries around water quality, sea temperature events etc. Their contact details are; 01273 292716.
  • Statement from Brighton and Hove City Council regarding the service in the seafront.

To Swim or not to Swim?

Never has a debate more divided the outdoor swimming community since Skins Vs Suits! So should you be swimming in the outdoors right now?

 

That really is the question. And the question that is dividing the once aligned community of wild, open and outdoor swimmers. This is hopefully a balanced view, if there is such a thing…..

Being an outdoor swimmer opens you up to a large friendly wild swimming community. I swim with the Salty Seabirds in Brighton and Hove because they are my safe harbour in stormy seas. Always kind, willing to help and support each other. Swimmers I have never met, and never will, virtually share their swimming lives with each other on a daily basis. Again the positive affirmations and generosity keeps your spirits lifted.  This has continued throughout the Covid19 crisis but not even this robust and buoyant community is coming out of this unscathed.

We don’t have a governing body – we outdoor swimmers, swim wild and free – that is the point. The group I swim with have rejected clubs rules, constitutions and committees in favour of fluid freedom. However – we do stress that everyone swims and their own risk and precautions should be taken – those being irresponsible are removed from the group so there are group rules of a kind.

The answer to the question to swim or not to swim, is all about personal perspective, personal experience (not the swimming kind) and personal need. And therefore, the only person that can answer the question is you! When the government guidelines in England prevented people from travelling to exercise/go outdoors for an hour it was a very easy decision to make. If it’s not on your doorstep you can’t do it.

Cue the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’ division. All over the Outdoor Swimming Society images of huge paddling pools (sometimes in huge gardens attached to huge houses) popped up. Instead of asking about places to swim the most asked question switched to the type and size of paddling pool to get. So much so that the poor group admins had to restrict the number of posts on the subject.

As the English restrictions were relaxed cue the ‘wild’ and ‘open’ division. Those that dip in any river, pond, cove or muddy puddles could now jump in their car and seek out spots to get wet. Those that swim for fitness and train for events were still being denied access to commercial open water swimming venues. And the no swimming rules have remained in Scotland, Wales and NI.

Nothing has been so hotly debated since the days of the skin Vs suits discussion. I swim in the sea because I love the expanse of it, the never ending horizon, how it changes every minute of every day. I love swimming with my flock, faffing, chatting and eating cake. I admire the creative ingenuity of those able to rig up resistance bungees to provide them with personal endless pools. I have enjoyed watching people get into cold baths and showers. I have particularly liked the imaginative buckets of cold water being thrown about all over social media. But none of this does it for me. My personal perspective, experience and need means it’s the sea or nothing for me.

Now, as we approach a sunny bank holiday in England and you are allowed to travel, meet a friend albeit 2 metres apart it is not quite so cut and dry. Under normal circumstances this would be the first weekend of the lifeguard season for seaside resorts up and down the country. But this year it is not. Last weekend Coastguard rescue teams from around the UK were called out 194 times to incidents including inflatables drifting offshore, crashed and broken down jetskis and pleasure boats, people injured while out walking or cycling along the coast, paddleboarders, kayakers, windsurfers and kite surfers who found themselves in difficulty and people cut off by the tide or stuck in mud. As I write this the coastguard helicopter is flying over Brighton looking for lost children. More people in the water definitely increasing the probability of accidents and emergencies which will inevitability put the NHS resources under strain and voluntary RNLI crew at risk.

 

Beautiful locations are normally so popular and picturesque because they are rural and remote. What this means is they will naturally have lower incidents of Covid19 and they do not have the infrastructure to deal with a huge increase of visitors at a time when the emergency services are stretched to the limit. People are being asked to stay away from the Lake District = and the coasts of Cornwall to protect these communities. Popular tourists resorts like Brighton are also under threat. Just a quick hop down the A23 from London and you can be on the beach in an hour. Up until now Brighton and Hove has had one of the lowest rates of Covid19 cases. We’d like to keep it that way!

For those of us that make a living from teaching people to swim or open water coaching the personal need to get in the water may be financial. However, how are we meant to perform a rescue under social distancing regulations. The risk assessments we normally use are redundant. I specialise in working with people with confidence , mental health and wellbeing issues. I have to be closer than 2 metres with my swimmers to provide them with the very necessary reassurance they need. So my personal perspective is to postpone all of the confidence tasters and wellbeing sessions until all restrictions are removed. We have also felt a uncomfortable promoting our wild swim shop when not everyone is allowed to swim and not everyone should be swimming.

People who no longer have access to their local pool, or have always wanted to try wild swimming and the change in weather and working circumstances has made this possible now are keen to experience outdoor swimming. We receive lots of request asking for advice on how to start, what to wear, where to go etc. We gently advise them that this isn’t the best time to start swimming outdoors. You can’t miss something you have never experienced and the sea will always be there when this is all over. We’d also like to be able to personally welcome them into our group and show them the ropes  For us running a community group we cannot provide the support/guidance etc they require without actually being with them and as voluntary admins we don’t have the time or resources to do it and are not prepared to ask those in the group to either. So, our Salty Seabird community group remains closed for the foreseeable future. People have begun to swim again, in pairs based on their personal perspective, experience and need.

We are very visible here on Brighton and Hove’s beaches  and have monkey see, monkey do concerns.  Many of us are experienced year round swimmers but know that anyone regardless of swim ability and local knowledge can get into difficulty. Those that choose to swim try to be discreet and respectful of others that choose not to.

We have a trauma surgeon in our group that works in a busy A&E department – if anyone needs a bloody swim outdoors it is her. But she hasn’t and she isn’t going to until the rest of the UK allows swimming, and she evaluates the impact of the bank holiday and the more relaxed lockdown regime on the Covid figures at the hospital. This is based on her perspective and experience overriding her need. (We will of course provide her with a guard of honour when she enter the water when she returns to the flock.)

We also have some swimmers in our group that suffer severely with their mental health and they believe that as a direct consequence of their lack of access to cold water they have suffered relapses in some cases resulting in admission to hospital. They feel that a quick low tide dip is less likely to result in a stay on the ward that not doing so would.

So the choice is yours. What is your perspective, experience and need? If you do chose to get in the water, do it safely. If you chose to wait, the sea will be there with open arms when you do.

 

Social Distancing Safe Swimming!

  • Never swim alone – but during these times it needs to be just one other!
  • Always wear a brightly coloured hat and tow float to be seen.
  • Always wear goggles so that you can see hazards
  • Adhere to social distancing requirements throughout your swim, including arrival, changing and post swim.
  • Let someone in your household know where you are, what you are doing and expected time to return.
  • It is your responsibility that you are sufficiently fit and healthy to swim and that you know your limits, have you eaten, are you hydrated, what is your state of mind?
  •  In terms of sea swimming, there are no RNLI lifeguards (Council Lifeguards in Brighton and Hove) operating presently, so you need to complete your own risk assessment on the water conditions, safe exit points, water hazards.

 

 

A Puffin for keeping Seabirds Safe

The Puffin Billy Eco15 Drybag Tow Float is one of our most popular products. Swim safe Seabirds!

Who are Seabirds? We are Kath and Cath, sea swimmers heading into our 3rd winter of cold water swimming. We loved the positive impact on our mental and physical health, the sense of community and the ‘play’ of cold water dipping. We wanted to spread the swim love but we didn’t want to be a charity reliant on the vagaries of grants and funding.  So we formed Seabirds Ltd and we opened our online Wild Swim Shop. The aim being that we sell high quality swim stuff and profits fund our ‘Wellbeing and Water” courses. Our swim group – Salty Seabirds‘ is currently at over a 1000 members (thankfully they do not all turn up for a swim at once!)

Safety while in the water is our top priority. Puffin therefore met both needs for us – a beautiful ethical product we can sell and promote while keeping our swimmers safer. We found Puffin on Instagram (and LOVED the logo – another Seabird!) Another small British company at the beginning of its journey, just like ourselves and as sea lovers trying to minimise our environmental impact the eco-Billy with its biodegradable material was a perfect match for us.

Puffin Billy Eco15 Drybag Tow Float is now one of our most popular products. Many of our swimmers have bought them and we make quite a sight swimming along the shoreline, fastest at the front, chatters at the back. Our favourite use for them is more aesthetic really than safety – we put bike lights in’em for our moon swims – we light up the surface of the sea – Salty Fabulous!

Love it! I take it each time I swim. I put my keys and phone in it and it also helps kite surfers and SUPs to avoid me. (And when I swim at dusk I put a flashing bike light inside it. Disco time!) ” (Salty Seabird Sally)

(Photo credits Seabirds and Rachel Goddard)

Since we started selling Puffin Tow Floats Puffin have developed a stronger attachment to the waist belt. This is on all recently sold products. If you have one of the original models from Seabirds and want the new stronger clasp please get in touch as Puffin have sent us a stash of replacements – info@seabirdsltd.com “

Magic Seaweed explained for Sea Swimmers

Brilliant Blog by Freyja Hunt – how to read magic seaweed to aid sea swimming choices

This is a brilliant blog by Seabird Freyja. Everyone has a different favourite forecasting app that they use to see if it is safe to swim. The most commonly used app is Magic Seaweed that was designed for surfers see what swell was approaching but it can be used to look at sea swimming conditions too!

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Magic Seaweed (MSW) surf report provides a seven day forecast of sea conditions. Here’s a guide to understanding the data so you can get a better idea of what to expect before heading down to the beach.

msw4

 

Surf

This is the first column in blue. In Brighton and Hove, this is essentially the height of the shore break (or the white bits that can knock you over). This will give you an idea of how difficult it will be to enter and exit the water. MSW is designed for surfers so the measurement used is that of the surfable wave rather than the total wave height. For us sea swimmers it might be worth adding a little extra on to this measurement.

It is worth noting that the value given is the average height. 1 wave in 23 is likely to be twice the average height and one in 1,175 is three times the average height. Therefore, it is worth taking this as a rough guideline and always be on the lookout for larger waves when getting in and out.

In terms of height of the shore break, my rule of thumb is anything above waist height is capable of knocking me over.

 

Swell

Swell – listed in the second column – is the height of the waves once you are past the shore break. A big swell can be a lot of fun as you bounce around above and below your swimming buddies.

The next column gives an indication of the wavelength, or the time between the crest of each wave in seconds. The longer the time, the gentler and more undulating the waves will feel. Conversely, shorter times between each crest means the waves will come more frequently and you may be more likely to get a mouthful of sea water.

wavelength

The black arrow to the right is an indication of the direction the swell is travelling. If you are doing a point to point swim, this is worth bearing in mind – if the swell is travelling in the same direction as you, it will feel like it is pushing you along. If you are swimming into the swell you will again, be more likely to get lung-fulls of sea water.

 

Wind

Wind is the main factor influencing how rough the sea is going to be. The stronger the wind is and the longer it has blown for, the larger the swell is likely to be.

The right-hand number column denotes wind speed. The larger number being the steady wind speed, and the small number being the gust speed. The arrow shows the direction the wind is travelling in. In Brighton and Hove the prevailing wind is South Westerly.

msw1

 

It is worth considering that MSW doesn’t factor in local sea breezes. Sea breezes are caused as the land changes temperature faster than the sea. For example, in the morning the sun heats up the land quicker than the sea. This triggers the air on the land to rise up and and cooler air is drawn in from the sea to replace it. Sea breezes are generally onshore in the afternoon (as the land heats up and air rushes in from the sea) and offshore in the morning (where the land falls below sea temperature overnight and air moves from land to sea).  You might therefore expect the wind to be slightly stronger in the afternoon than denoted on MSW.

 

Tidal Information

Magic Seaweed also shows the times and heights of the high and low tides. In Brighton and Hove, low tides generally vary between 1 and 2.5 meters and high tides between 5 and 6.5 meters above chart datum. The difference between the two is the tidal range. The tidal range has an effect on currents – the larger the tidal range, generally the stronger the currents will be. The tidal range during spring tide in Brighton is around 6 metres.

tide

 

In a nutshell

The first column is the height of the shore break and gives you an idea of how difficult it is to enter and exit.

The second column is the height of the swell and tells you how bouncy it will be once you are in and past the shore break.

The third section tells you wind speed and direction – or the best direction to swim in to avoid getting a mouth full of sea water.

The box below informs you of the times of high and low tides and the tidal range. From this, you can have a go at working out the direction and strength of the current.

 

See, didn’t we tell you, a brilliant blog. Thank you Freyja for allowing us to host it on our site. I use Wind Guru, Nautide and Imray too!