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Useful Notes / The Great British Seaside

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Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea...
Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside, traditional British seaside song

Britain, being an island, has a considerable amount of beach. There are a fair number of seaside resorts around the UK. They're not as popular as they once were (with more and more people going abroad for their holidays).

Safety first:

  • Look for two large flags on most beaches - between these indicate the area patrolled by lifeguards in case anyone gets into difficulty. ALWAYS check the information boards for information on the times and dates they are on duty. If the flags are half yellow, half red, that means it's safe to get in, and that a lifeguard is on duty.
  • Fully red flags indicate that the water is too dangerous to swim in, due to riptides, dangerously rapid tide changes, or some other environmental feature.
  • If there are signs saying no swimming in certain locations, DON'T ignore them. Otherwise safe looking water can have dangerous rip tides and currents that can easily overwhelm even a strong swimmer.
  • If there's two black and white checquered flags on part of the beach, that means watercraft are operating in the area of those two flags - don't enter the water here, or you risk serious injury from potential collisions.
  • If someone gets into difficulty, alert the lifeguards if on duty. Otherwise call 999 and ask for the Coastguard - they will alert all local rescue services such as the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) as well as their own boats and/or helicopters. Some beaches also have emergency flotation devices you can throw to swimmers in distress. If you choose to enter the water yourself, remember the first rule of rescuing someone is to avoid becoming a casualty yourself.
  • If you get into difficulty, call for a lifeguard's help. If you can't make yourself heard, wave both arms, held straight, slowly in simultaneous broad arcs from shoulder height to above your head, which indicates "I am in danger, help me." If you're caught in the water and unable to swim back, float until the lifeguard arrives; don't exhaust yourself.

Other useful notes on the UK seaside:

  • If the beach has a blue flag flying, it's met internationally-agreed standards for cleanliness and you can safely swim there.
  • Don't go topless unless you're on a nudist beach.
  • If you want surfing, head to Cornwall (or West Wales, or Portrush in N.Ireland)
  • Bear in mind that the sea water is not going to be as warm as it is in the US or Australia. Unless, of course, you're from the region surrounding the Gulf of Maine, in which case the water might actually be slightly warmer. Or Alaska, in which case the water will be much, much warmer.
  • Be prepared for rain, especially if you're in a heatwave.
  • If it's warm, remember to stay hydrated - British summers are notoriously humid and you will lose more water than a similar temperature in a drier climate.
  • Sun-cream remains a good idea, irrespective of how sunny the seaside may actually appear.
  • Windbreaks, no matter how hilarious the concept may seem, are also frequently a good idea.
  • Be prepared to defend your food. Seagulls are quite vicious in tourist areas.
    • The reason for this is tourists feeding seagulls. DO NOT DO THIS; the outcome affects the local area and population long after you've returned home. Seagulls are best left to forage for their own food. Feeding seagulls human food, besides being unhealthy for the gull, causes them both to see human food as a viable food source and to lose their fear of humans. The results: seagulls cause damage and mess by stealing and scavenging; seagulls are more aggressive towards people, particularly young children; and seagulls inhabit populated areas where they leave droppings everywhere, spread disease and keep people awake by squawking all night.
    • Although they are a pest, do not kill or injure seagulls or their young or eggs unless forced to do so in self-defence (the bird is attacking you, for instance); they're a protected species, and you could end up with a huge fine.
  • British seaside resorts are known for their piers, which started as simple landing stages and were then elaborated with attractions, theatres, food shops and so forth. Some of the longer ones even had miniature railways constructed along them. Many are now in a state of disrepair, sometimes sped up deliberately by malicious people.
    • In the past, a common selling item were seaside "postcards" which were mostly anything but postcards and contained crude Carry On-like humour.
  • While many beaches are sand, some British beaches are stony - beach shoes are recommended for these to avoid uncomfortable walking.
    • Conversely, in warm weather it's not considered remarkable or objectionable to walk around coastal towns without shoes if the local beach is sandy.
  • If you are a dog owner, note that many beaches ban dogs from certain parts of the beach between certain dates. Always clear up after your pet, and keep them under control - a dog running at full tilt that decides to bowl over an unsuspecting child (or even an adult) can leave the latter with serious injuries if they land wrong.
  • Please place litter in the rubbish bins (trash-cans for US readers) provided or take it with you to dispose of. Dropping litter is anti-social and can land you with a fine (or even a court appearance if you refuse to cooperate or pay). It's particularly inconsiderate to throw litter on a beach, where people could tread on it barefoot.
  • On warm days, you are likely to see people drinking alcohol, with a picnic, as part of a beach party, or steadily throughout the day if they are on holiday (vacation to North Americans). Drinking in public is not illegal in the UK, but some councils enforce no-alcohol policies on beaches. If these are in force, respect them. Bear in mind that while drinking in a public place is tolerated, drunken and disorderly behaviour and littering are not. Likewise, underage drinkers caught by the police or coastguard can expect to have the booze confiscated, while any adult who supplied it to them could be liable to a hefty fine.
  • Beachcombing is rather common, although it sometimes angers excavators and archaeologists who might show interest in the area. In particular, you might find people hunting or digging for vintage items, particularly antique bottles dumped in the area, which have made their way into estuaries, cliff-faces, spits or sandbars. If you want to do this, make sure either that the beach is public land, or if the beach is privately-owned, that you have permission to search.
    • Fossil hunting is also a popular pastime on certain parts of the UK Coast; The Jurassic Coast in Dorset and the Back of the Wight are especially rich in finds, so it might be worth bringing some fossil hunting tools along with you; if you're lucky, you might find something worth quite a bit of money and of considerable interest to local scientists and archaeologists.
  • The aforementioned RNLI is an all-volunteer organisation that receives no taxpayer funding. If you do find yourself getting into difficulties and need the assistance of a lifeguard, it's considered good manners to make a reasonably substantial donation afterwards: There will probably be collection boxes in most local shops, or you can use their website. This applies especially if your distress was the result of your own negligence.