Christmas Day swimmers warned to stay away from Exmouth and Budleigh as Covid Omicron forces RNLI and town’s lifeguards to pull safety patrols

Swimmers planning to head for Exmouth for a Christmas morning dip are urged to stay away because of ‘increasing concerns’ over the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Christmas Day swimmers are being warned to stay away from the annual festive Exmouth and Budleigh swims as the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has forced the RNLI and the town’s volunteer lifeguards to pull planned safety patrols.

Exmouth RNLI said its volunteers will not be standing-by with the boats if swimmers enter the sea, or at the Budleigh Salterton dip.

Exmouth Beach Rescue Club urged for ‘common sense to prevail’, saying its members had made the ‘difficult decision’ not to provide any safety cover if anyone went into the water.

It is the second year the coronavirus pandemic has prompted the town’s sea and beach safety groups to urge festive swimmers in their thousands to give their traditional Exmouth Christmas day dip a miss.

Nigel Snowshall, Exmouth Beach Rescue Club, spokesman, said: “Exmouth’s volunteer lifeguards will not be attending this year’s Christmas Day swim to provide safety cover as they normally do.

“The difficult decision has been taken in light of the current, deteriorating Covid-19 situation including concerns over increasing risks associated with the Omicron variant.

“This decision has not been taken lightly, however, we have to put the safety and welfare of our members and their families first.”

He added: “The club is appealing for common sense to prevail this year and asking people not attend mass gathering festive swims.

“People are being asked to think, not only of their own safety, but that of all concerned including other attendees, vulnerable family and friends and first responders if an incident occurs, also the unnecessary, additional pressure that could be put onto the emergency services and NHS.”

Mr Snowshall said: “We are disappointed at being unable to attend this year. However, many of our members – like most – have vulnerable family members, work colleagues or friends and it has been decided that the risks are too great and do not align to current ‘keep safe’ guidelines.

“Therefore, as a responsible safety organisation, we have taken the decision to lead by example.”

Exmouth Lifeboat Operations Manager, Ian Taylor, said: “Very regrettably, due to crew operational safety issues with the increasing concerns about the Covid-19 variant, Omicron, a decision has been made not to launch our Exmouth RNLI Lifeboats at the Christmas Swims at Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton this year.

“The health and safety of our charity’s volunteer crew must take priority in these difficult times and we would like to thank members of the public for their support and understanding.

“As at all other times, both lifeboats will remain on call as normal round the clock over the Christmas holidays for emergency tasking by H.M. Coastguard. They will be fully search and rescue capable throughout.”

He added: “May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and safe Christmas.”

Both organisations urged caution to those determined to swim in the chilly December sea, saying there were real and ‘severe’ risks attached to being immersed in cold water.

Mr Snowshall said: “The risks associated with sudden immersion in cold water, as happens at these events, can be severe; cold water shock, hypothermia and heart attack are all life threatening and a real risk and the lack of on-scene safety cover increases these risks.

“People used to open water swimming will be well aware of these risks and prevent them by acclimatisation built up through numerous swims over a period of time.”

He added: “For those who rarely swim in the sea, especially those who only swim on Christmas Day, these risks cannot be overemphasised.   If you see someone else in difficulty in the water, call 999, ask for the Coastguard, do not enter the water.

“Have a wonderful festive period but please think of others and help to keep everyone safe this winter. That way we can all meet up as usual next year to enjoy our usual festive dip – hopefully.”

The RNLI said: “Many of the usual planned festive swimming events – which often have safety cover – have been cancelled this year due to Covid-19 safety precautions.

“The RNLI is urging those who decide to go for a dip around Christmas or New Years to be extra cautious and understand the risks and how to stay safe before entering the cold water.”

Exmouth Beach Rescue Club has issued the following safety advice for cold-water, and winter, swimming:

  • If you plan to go in to the water; check the conditions are safe – outgoing tide, offshore winds and rip currents can sweep you out of your depth.
  • Make sure you go with someone and wear appropriate clothing, a wetsuit and bright orange or green swimming hat is recommended. Enter the water slowly up to waist depth, splash your forearms, back of neck and body.
  • Allow the initial cold shock response of increased breathing rate and heart rate to come under control before going any further, this takes between 60 and 90 seconds. It is important not to splash your face or put your head under the water on entry.
  • A general guide is to stay in the water for a maximum of one minute per degree of water temperature, around 11 minutes at this time of year. On exiting the water your body continues to cool down for around 20 minutes, it is important to warm immediately, fully dry off, put on layers of warm clothes including thick socks and a hat.

Exmouth’s Christmas Day swim began with just six swimmers in the late 1960s when keen sportsman Ken Cunningham decided to take a dip on December 25.

He invited his friends, Peter Horne, Stan Jordan, Nick Hockings, David Hart and Miss Ireland to join him.

Each year the swim has grows in popularity – although it has never been an organised event.

The last event, held in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic started,  attracted thousands of swimmers and spectators, who set off running into the sea at 11 o’clock sharp.

EDN ad

Yachting president Princess Anne presents award to Exmouth sailing volunteer for his dedication to the sport

About Author