The RNLI Chairman, Stuart Popham, has written a letter to the national press in response to media coverage of the charity’s lifeguard service provision.

I am writing as Chairman of the RNLI Board of Trustees in response to two recent articles about Beach Lifeguards.

Throughout this public health crisis, the RNLI, a charity funded, staffed and supported almost entirely by private donations and volunteers, has provided an unbroken search and rescue service from 238 lifeboat stations around the coasts of the UK and Ireland.

The coastal lifesaving service has been augmented every year since 2001 by the RNLI Lifeguard service which has grown from small beginnings to cover more than 250 beaches with 1,600 paid, predominantly seasonal, lifeguards at the height of a normal summer. This service is provided under annual contract to Local Authorities and landowners who have a statutory obligation to maintain safe conditions on their land. Many additional beaches (probably around 500 accessible to the public) have no lifeguard cover at all. This year, extremely challenging circumstances have delayed the normal roll-out of the RNLI service which starts at the end of February and continues until the final beaches are covered in mid-July. The practical elements of this roll-out include recruiting, training, equipping and moving physical infrastructure to beaches and all of this was interrupted in England from 25 March to 10 May and is only now possible in the rest of the UK. Those are not excuses, just facts.

The RNLI already had plans to expand the service well beyond the initial 70 beaches announced on 6 May. We were on 18 beaches this weekend, 8 in Cornwall, and we will continue to work on this plan until as many beaches as possible have RNLI lifeguard cover. We are not looking for government funding to do this and the trustees have been categoric throughout that funds are available, if necessary, from reserves, so that the best possible lifesaving service is maintained. In the meantime, we would remind the public that they should follow government guidelines and also the water safety messaging which has been issued in both the UK and Ireland.

Everyone at the RNLI; its leadership, staff, volunteers and supporters, care passionately about our purpose – Saving Lives at Sea – as we have for nearly 200 years and always will.


Stuart Popham