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Irish Lifeboats

RNLI Lifeguards

Photo: Pacemaker Press Intl​

RNLI lifeguards starting patrolling beaches in 2001 following a successful pilot scheme. The trial project took place during the Summer of 2001 from May to September, operating in five local authority areas and covering 26 popular beaches in south-west England. Since then, it has grown with over 1,000 RNLI lifeguards patrol over 200 beaches around the UK including Northern Ireland.


RNLI lifeboat volunteers or search and rescue helicopter crews can respond to a situation within minutes and often save lives close to the shore. But, at the beach, every second counts.


For the best chance of survival, you need someone on the beach who can see the dangers develop: someone who can prevent accidents before they happen and respond instantly if they occur.


RNLI lifeguards are qualified in lifesaving and casualty care, highly trained, strong and fit. They must be able to swim 200m in under 3½ minutes, and run 200m on sand in under 40 seconds. However, a good lifeguard rarely gets wet - 95% of a lifeguard's work is preventative.

RNLI lifeguards monitor sea conditions and set up the appropriate flags, watch the people on the beach and offer safety advice both on the beach and in classrooms through our education programmes.


All of the RNLI lifeguards are equipped not only with the best training but the best equipment, so that they are able to deal with any situation. This includes:

  • inshore rescue boat (IRB)
  • rescue watercraft (RWC)
  • patrol vehicle
  • all-terrain vehicle (quadbike)
  • rescue board
  • rescue tube
  • VHF radio
  • binoculars
  • first aid responder bag
  • defibrillator

RNLI lifeguards in Northern Ireland

One of the first images of RNLI lifeguards in Northern Ireland. Photo Credit: RNLI

The RNLI introduced a lifeguard service on seven beaches along the Causeway Coast in 2011 at Downhill, Castlerock, Benone, Whiterocks, Portrush East, Portrush West and Portstewart. The service was extended to three beaches in county Down the following year at Cranfield, Tyrella and Murlough. And in 2017, RNLI lifeguards began a new patrol at Ballycastle.


Since 2011, RNLI lifeguards have saved 48 lives in Northern Ireland. They have aided 3,701 people through water rescue, returning lost children and delivering first aid and casualty care. During that time, lifeguards have responded to 3,290 incidents and carried out over 1M preventative actions.


Michael Thompson, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager who himself is a former lifeguard and supervisor, paid tribute to the team: ‘Thanks to RNLI lifeguards our beaches are safer places, so we can enjoy our time at the coast and return home safely at the end of the day. Around 95% of a lifeguard’s work is in prevention. They keep beachgoers safe by educating them about water safety and spotting the dangers before accidents happen. RNLI lifeguards past and present have kept beach visitors safe over the past 10 years in Northern Ireland and will continue to do so for years to come. If you are planning a visit to the coast this summer, please remember to visit a lifeguarded beach.’

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