The much-anticipated run of bank holidays is upon us. By the time we reach the other end of this bonanza, on 3 May, millions of us will have taken some sort of break, many making the most of that great asset on our doorstep, the British coast.
One organisation that has perhaps approached this holiday season with trepidation rather than anticipation is the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. This time last year – when it had just Easter and May Day to contend with, not a royal wedding, too – the charity launched its lifeboats 126 times to go to the aid of leisure boats, rescuing 178 people. And its lifeguards helped out 120 people who got into difficulties on the UK's beaches.
Ross Macleod is the man at the RNLI charged with looking after beach safety. He says: "[Our] advice is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags." (You can find out the nearest beach to where you'll be that's attended by a lifeguard at goodbeachguide.co.uk.)
But if you aren't near a lifeguarded beach, Macleod advises that you find out about the beach you'll be visiting before you go – check the weather and tide times at least – and pay attention to any signs at the beach entrance. "By following this basic advice, we hope people will have a great time but stay safe as well," he says.
Peter Chennel, sea safety manager for the RNLI, adds some cautionary words for sailors: "Check your boat, service the engine and carry spares. But accidents can happen to anyone, no matter how experienced, so make sure you have a means of calling for help and ensure your lifejacket and its gas bottles are in good condition."
This timely and useful advice may seem obvious, but the RNLI's experience shows that year after year, applying a little common sense could be the difference between life or death.
For more useful information from the RNLI, check out the relevant pages on its website – rnli.org.uk/beachsafety and rnli.org.uk/seasafety.
I've just returned from Jersey (of which more in a future article on these pages). Now, as any schoolboy/girl knows, Jersey may be in the British Isles but its banknotes aren't generally accepted on the British mainland. Hence, when my friend went to buy a couple of coffees at the airport on departure, she was keen to use up her Jersey pounds and asked if the waitress would give her change in Bank of England notes, so that she could use them back home. The answer was a flat no. My friend offered to pay on her debit card. Another no. In despair, she explained she would have to cancel the order. Hey presto, the problem was solved, the coffees served and the change returned in sterling. Shame.