Getting their act together

One of two new lifeguard bases that appeared at Camber Sands

Have you ever seen something and thought that is not quite right? Or, to put it more bluntly, this seems all wrong. That is when I begin to look at the detail, and at what I’m being told. Well I visited Camber Sands twice in the past week and was left with exactly that feeling.

So I spell out below what I saw, the questions this raised in my mind, and the detail I looked into.

RNLI lifeguards were on duty (partially) at Camber this year for the first time over the Bank Holiday weekend, May 27-29, and they were still there on Tuesday when the wind was blowing, the clouds had gathered, and there was virtually nobody else on the beach.

Rother District Council’s (RDC) beach patrols were no longer there, however, and the beach police “station” (though it appears to be not much more than a couple of rooms) was initially shut when I visited. Indeed on Tuesday May 30 Camber itself seemed closed for business – though there were families appearing from time to time from the depths of Pontins holiday camp.

Saturday May 27 was different, though. The big Western car park (run by Rother District Council) was filling up fast (and a signpost said it could hold 1,800 vehicles), cars were parked on either side of the road out towards the golf course, and traffic jams were beginning to accumulate both in and out of Camber on the road to Rye.

After lunch as a result there was a steady stream of trippers in both directions on the path across the dunes, and the beach was full. But the nearest lifeguard observation hut at Camber Sands West was empty and unmanned.

However the widest (up to 700 metres) parts of the beach at low tide are at the western end between the mouth of the Rother, the western car park and the much smaller central car park (also run by Rother) where the police and Rother have their summertime offices – and vehicle access is easy.

Families, loaded down with gear, naturally park themselves as soon as possible on the beach and near where they parked or got off a bus or walked, and close to the nearest loos. The western car park and the first bus stop from Rye are close by the dunes path – but without a lifesaver in sight.

RDC claims it has to look after all the beach from the river mouth right down to Jury’s Gap (some three miles plus). The reality is that most bathing stops at the far end of  The Suttons road alongside the beach where the first bus stop from Lydd is, as well as the caravan park – and where the beach has already narrowed so the gap between the high and low water marks is much, much smaller.

I saw no beach patrols beyond that point on Saturday – and there were none on Tuesday – for the very good reason that you might fall victim to a fast-moving kitesurfer, which is exactly why the kitesurfers are there. They know there will not be any families that far along towards the danger area of the army ranges – and because it is too far for families to carry beach gear, as well as being further from the public conveniences.

On the other hand the dangerous area for bathers extends in the opposite direction from the central car park past the western car park to the Rother’s mouth, and I saw more families by the empty lifeguard station on Saturday than I did near the couple of cafes by the central car park (and the RNLI’s Camber Sands Central observation post) – though beach access for police, lifeguards and Rother staff is clearly easier from there.

On Tuesday, though, RDC’s presence was virtually non-existent and the lifeguards were very much on their own, literally, as the visitors on the whole beach could have just about filled one double-decker 100 bus.

All this leads me to wonder what may emerge at next month’s inquest into last year’s drownings at Camber.

RDC’s claim to have to look after a packed three-mile beach is at best misleading and exaggerated, and the briefing it gave the RNLI appears to be somewhat weird (if not wholly inadequate) if Rother’s staff vanish after the Bank Holiday weekend but the RNLI remain.

On the other hand if the RNLI think it wise to be present because of the holidaymakers in holiday camps and caravan parks (as opposed to day trippers) one wonders why RDC so abruptly yanks out its beach patrols. The coroner may conclude that RDC knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing – particularly human lives.

And how far does Rother’s “contribution” of £51,000 go towards the real cost of guarding lives on Camber Sands?



Photo: Rye News Library


  1. I was very confused on thur at camber when I took a group of rookie life g children I had and my other coaches been teaching on a two day rookie life g skills camp to take them on the beach in v windy. Rough sea conditions to find no red or even orange flag up.myself and my other very qualified coach watched in horror as s lady in a bikini entered the water to swim.we were both ready thinking we would have to rescue her.i do not understand why there were no flags up


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here