‘Dangerous’ beach where girl nearly died ‘needs safety measures like Abersoch’

A tragedy on a Gwynedd beach was narrowly avoided when beachgoers rescued a struggling young swimmer as her head slipped underwater in strong currents. Sunday’s incident has prompted calls for a review of warden services – and for RNLI-trained lifeguards to be employed on the county’s beaches. A man involved in the rescue questioned why the “relatively risk-free” Abersoch has multiple wardens whereas neighbouring Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth) has none, despite its fearsome reputation.

On Sunday, in sea conditions described as “pretty chaotic”, a crisis developed “in a matter of seconds” as horrified families watched from the beach. “It was scary,” said a woman on Facebook. “That little girl’s head was going under!” A rescuer said she was caught in a rip current as winds whipped up a large swell. READ MORE: Man suffers ‘significant injuries’ in A55 crash as car fire shuts road for hours

“With the beach crowded with families, it was a potent cocktail for something bad to happen,” he said on Facebook. “And so it proved as we pulled an exhausted young girl out of a dangerous rip.” Alarmed onlookers reported seeing “numerous unsupervised children in the waves”. According to the girl’s rescuer, her parents materialised only when she was back on the beach.

As it can be difficult to keep an eye on children all the time, beach users believe safety measures must be improved in a bay that earned its English names from sailors unable to escape its clutches. The conditions are popular with surfers but swimmers are warned to beware strong currents and undertows: several locals recalled not ever being allowed to swim at Porth Neigwl as children because it was “too dangerous”. The girl’s rescuer, a Llyn Peninsula coastal veteran, said lifeguards were needed at the beach “as a matter of priority”.

He added: “It seems very wrong that on a potentially dangerous day there are any number of wardens on the relatively risk-free Abersoch beach but there is nobody at Porth Neigwl. “Today could easily have been another fatality. I’m sorry, but putting up a few signs is not good enough.”

Should North Wales councils be investing in RNLI lifeguards on all their beaches? Have your say in the comments below. Several beach wardens are employed at Abersoch.

Usually, they work in teams of four, promoting beach “safety and enjoyment”, and giving information on local tides and weather conditions. Wardens also manage slipways, enforce local bylaws and keep a close eye on jet skis and drifting inflatables. Some people seem to think it’s a cushy number. “I’m sure Abersoch beach could spare some wardens,” said one person. “They never seem to be doing much apart from walking up and down the beach in pairs!”

Most people appreciate Abersoch’s wardens but some question the allocation of resources. “Gwynedd Council needs to give proper consideration to the risks/requirements of their beach management,” said one visitor. “Hells Mouth warrants proper supervision. Two trucks and a jet ski on Abersoch Main Beach is not an appropriate allocation of the resource and should be reassigned urgently.”

Gwynedd Council provides a warden service on Abersoch main beach, which attracts large crowds but is considered much safer than Porth NeigwlGwynedd Council provides a warden service on Abersoch main beach, which attracts large crowds but is considered much safer than Porth Neigwl

At a beach as deceiving as Porth Neigwl, many regulars would like to see RNLI-trained lifeguards at the beach rather than wardens.

The RNLI will provide a lifeguard service if asked by the beach owner or local authority, in return for a “small amount” of funding. More than 240 beaches in the UK have RNLI lifeguard provision. Few of these are in North Wales – exceptions being Prestatyn and Rhyl.

At such beaches, the RNLI conducts assessments and advises local councils on the changing risks. During last year’s school summer holidays, RNLI lifeguards aided 990 people on the beaches they monitor in Wales.

Gwynedd Council’s beach safety messages

  • Plan and prepare for the weather – check forecasts, take suitable clothing, read all warning signs and take plenty of sunscreen.
  • Keep an eye on your friends and family while on the beach. If they are in the water, check you can see them and are within calling range.
  • Don’t let anyone swim on their own.
  • Do not use inflatable equipment without a safety cord anchored to shore.
  • Do not ignore red flags or any other signs advising you not to swim.
  • Phone 999 and ask for the coastguard if there is an emergency.

The charity may not provide a lifeguard service in Gwynedd but it works with the council where it can.

A spokesperson said: “The RNLI is actively seeking to improve water safety around the Gwynedd coastline and continues to discuss the matter with the local authority whenever we are able.” Gwynedd has traditionally relied on its 35-40 seasonal beach wardens to educate visitors to ensure safety at its “main” beaches. Porth Neigwl is currently not among them.

A spokesperson said: “The council makes decisions on individual beach management based on the geography, features and characteristics of the coastline in question. “An annual and specific risk assessment is carried out for individual beaches which identifies relevant hazards as well as associated mitigation measures. The identified measures then form the basis of the beach management and safety arrangements along the coast.

“Porth Neigwl is a rural and remote beach and has very little in terms of facilities. Information and safety signage there clearly states that there is no lifeguard service operating, and we would urge all visitors to take notice of the information provided.”

Porth Neigwl (Hell's Mouth) can live up to its English namePorth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth) can live up to its English name

With nearly 180 miles of coastline, Gwynedd’s beach wardens cannot be everywhere at once. Moreover, the staycation boom has shifted the goalposts a little, giving rise to a new generation of visitors who may be less beach savvy.

For the 2022 season, Gwynedd Council launched a new awareness campaign to reinforce safety messages. Children are being targeted through a trio of beach mascots, Dewi the Dolphin, Seren the Starfish and Olwen the Octopus. Red signs installed at Porth Neigwl warn of large breaking waves, unstable cliffs and a steep shelving beach.

People using inflatables are advised to take extra care in strong winds. But in the wake of the weekend’s near tragedy, locals and visitors fear it is not enough. Conditions were also reported to be rough at Porth Ceiriad, near Abersoch, which one parent said was also in need of RNLI lifeguards.

Others believe parents must take greater responsibility for their children’s safety in the sea. “It’s not up to the government to manage your children!” said one person. At the weekend, six children on inflatables were swept out to sea off Traeth Lligwy, Anglesey. They were helped by a sailing boat crew and a paddleboarder.

Read Next: