10 April 2018

Your coastal checklist: Top tips for spring adventures

After a long winter, we’re all itching to get out and about. If the coast is calling you this spring, get more from your adventuring with our handy tips and safety advice.

Put your best foot forward

Coastal paths can get really slippery with wet grass, mud and rocks. Get a grip with some good four-season hiking boots that fit your feet and are fit for purpose.

Outdoor shops can help you get the perfect fit, but some useful features to look out for in a coastal hiking boot are:

  • deep and wide lugs on the sole to help minimise any build-up of mud
  • a pronounced braking heel for downhill sections on scree or loose rocks
  • full-height ankle support for ankle stability on those uneven paths
  • a stiffer midsole for more support and less toe fatigue on steep paths
  • a thick rubber strip (the person working in your local outdoors shop will probably call it a 'rand') around the boot to help protect the upper from scuffs by rocks
  • Gore-Tex lining to keep moisture out.
four-season hiking bootPhoto: Anna Burn
A four-season hiking boot

Plan ahead

Before you set out, make sure you have all the information you need. Check sunset and tide times, as well as weather forecasts, so that you don’t get caught out in the dark or cut off by a rising tide after heading around a rocky outcrop or over a sand bar. Each year, our crews rescue around 499 people cut off by tidal changes.

When you’re going somewhere for the first time, check for local advice online or with local points of contact such as tourist information centres or harbour masters.

For more general coastal safety advice, take a look at our Know the risks pages.

Newquay inshore lifeboat crew rescue people cut
off by the tide at Whipsiderry, CornwallPhoto: Cornish Guardian/Terry Barnecutt
Newquay inshore lifeboat crew rescue people cut off by the tide at Whipsiderry, Cornwall

Take layers

Spring in our temperate climate is famously unpredictable. Be prepared for changeable weather by layering your clothing. Useful items for the wardrobe include: a lightweight long-sleeved base layer, a wind-stopping mid layer and a waterproof jacket.

Choosing a lightweight Gore-Tex shell jacket will mean you’re more likely to carry it with you than a bulky, heavy coat. Having a cosy jumper or fleece mid-layer means you can pack the shell away and recover a bit of breathability when it’s not drizzling. Bright colours will make it more likely that you’re seen, should you need help.

Spring sometimes surprises us with hot bursts of weather, so be ready for sun too. Pack sunglasses and a hat. And take a small refillable bottle with a little suncream in it, to make sure you’re still able to protect your skin, without having to carry a bulky bottle. Even on an overcast day, exposure to the elements can cause skin damage.

And pack smart

Besides clothing, what other things does every coastal explorer need from time to time?

A fully charged phone

Even with no signal, your phone will attempt to connect to other networks for an emergency call.

Snacks and a hot drink

If you’re out for more than a couple of hours, your core temperature can drop, draining your energy with your warmth. Trail mix or flapjacks can help restore energy – and a cup of tea never goes amiss!

A head torch

The days are getting longer now, but you never know what will happen while you’re out. A head torch will save your phone’s battery life if you get delayed and will keep your hands free for any stumbles.

A whistle

A simple and inexpensive way to attract attention and cut through the rumble of wind and waves, if people are searching for you.

An Ordnance Survey (OS) map

Some coastal hiking routes will take you inland. If your journey leads you away from the sea, an OS Map can help you find your way. If you learn to read the contour lines, you’ll have prior warning about that lovely steep hill up ahead too!

Keep your four-legged buddy close

Each year we get called to around 110 shouts involving animals. You’ll often notice signs at gates along the coastal path requesting that dogs are kept on leads – this is because dogs sometimes attack sheep, injuring them or causing them to bolt of off cliffs in fear. And even dogs used to coastal walks have been known to suddenly veer off the edge of a cliff.

St Davids D class inshore lifeboat Myrtle and Trevor Gurr, which rescued a dog head-butted off a cliff by a sheep last year!Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard
St Davids D class inshore lifeboat Myrtle and Trevor Gurr, which rescued a dog head-butted off a cliff by a sheep last year!

The safest thing to do is keep your pal on a lead when near drops or fast-flowing water.

But what if the worst happens and your buddy ends up in trouble in the water, or stuck in mud? Don’t go after them. Instead look around for a spot they may be able to get to safely, then call them. They will probably get out by themselves.

If you’re worried about them, don’t hesitate to call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. Our crews are only too happy to step in and prevent you coming into harm’s way – not to mention the warm fuzzy feeling of reuniting a dog with its human.

You can see more rescues of dogs and get our safety advice on our dog walking page.

Support local

Coastal communities often hold hidden treasures when it comes to food and drink. From regional dishes to secret gardens and unique outlooks, if you’re stopping for a drink or bite to eat choose a local business and help build resilience in local economies.

Friends enjoying a hot drink in Marwood Studio’s
secret garden, BrightonPhoto: Niki Holt
Friends enjoying a hot drink in Marwood Studio’s secret garden, Brighton

Or go al fresco

Heading out along the coast, away from the towns and villages, you may not have the option of popping into a local café. But that’s not such a bad thing – there’s nothing quite like food eaten outdoors!

And while sandwiches are the usual favourite to pop into a backpack, if it’s a colder day you might want some warmth as well as nourishment. In some areas you’re allowed to use a small stove (and those packable food pouches from outdoor stores are better than they used to be, if you need a lightweight option!), but there are also companies producing excellent insulated food tubs. I like to take last night’s leftovers out in mine, to enjoy when I need a pit-stop.

However you enjoy your wild dining, be responsible: check you’re permitted to use a stove and put your rubbish away as you make it, to prevent it from flying away in a gust of wind.

There’s nothing quite like breakfast and a cup
of tea out on the coast!Photo: Anna Burn
There’s nothing quite like breakfast and a cup of tea out on the coast!

Ditch the plastic

As the issue of plastic pollution on our little blue planet grows – along with public awareness – many of us are looking for ways to reduce the amount of plastic-clad products we’ve been buying. And more and more companies are springing up with effective and environmentally friendly solutions.

Here are a few ideas for your outing:

  • We have good quality tap water in the UK and Ireland, so invest in a reusable water bottle (you can even get insulated ones with sports caps, so you don’t have to stop mid-hike to avoid sloshing ice cold water down your front!).
  • The UK alone disposes of around 2.5 billion coffee cups a year; Ireland, around 750 million. A common misconception is that these are recyclable, but most are coated in a plastic to protect the cardboard – and they are estimated to take 30 years to decompose. From beautiful glass and cork replacements, to insulated stainless steel mugs and bamboo cups, the options are now plentiful so there’s no reason not to invest in one you love and will use.
  • Whatever happened to the packed lunch? A box with sandwiches and fruit, a flask of soup with some bread, or even an insulated tub containing a hot meal, can all help you to resist the temptation to pick up plastic-wrapped convenience lunch food.
  • A sporknife. Pop into your local outdoor store and pick up some reusable cutlery, so you’re never caught short (or miffed when you lose yet another dinner fork or teaspoon!).

Be careful when taking pictures

When you’re looking through a camera viewfinder or at the screen of your phone, it’s easy to lose your footing. No photograph is worth the potential consequences.

One way of showing someone in the foreground of a landscape shot – without you having to step too far back, or them needing to stand on a precarious edge – is to choose a wide-angle lens (or clip one on to your smartphone’s camera). You can then stand closer to take the photograph, while still showing plenty of the background.

Cliff collapse and clifftop selfies have featured in the news in the last couple of years, and for good reason. Our landscape is changed by coastal erosion after storms and it’s not always easy to tell where will collapse next. With so much of the beautiful UK and Irish coastline opened up by rocky coastal paths, it’s something to remain aware of. Follow marked paths, read signs and resist the urge to stand near – or even peek over – the edges of cliffs for photographs.

Last June, the Newhaven crew were called to a major cliff collapse at Seaford Head in Sussex, with concerns that two people had been caught beneath the fall. Coxswain Paul Legendre’s advice is to: ‘Be careful. Keep away from clifftop edges, and try to keep away from the cliff base at the bottom too.’

Using a wide-angle lens, your subject can stand
close to you, with plenty of the background still visiblePhoto: Shutterstock/Natalia Perchenok
Using a wide-angle lens, your subject can stand close to you, with plenty of the background still visible

Float to live

It may seem a benign activity, but every year our crews rescue around 478 walkers. As well as tidal cutoff, slips, trips and falls are common ways people find themselves in trouble around our coasts. Rock angling, photography and other shore-based activities carry this risk too. The average water temperature in the UK and Ireland is just 12°C; rivers such as the Thames are colder, even in the summer. In water 15ºC and below, cold water shock can kick in immediately – putting you at serious risk of drowning.

We’ve covered some steps you can take to reduce your chances of finding yourself in difficulty, but should you ever fall in the water unexpectedly, would you know what to do – and what not to do?

To increase your chance of survival, follow these steps:

  • Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.
  • Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.
  • Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.

Just before Christmas 2016, a hiker fell from the cliffs at Hurlestone Point on the coastal boundary of Exmoor National Park. Our Minehead crew eventually found her in a cave the following day. You can watch the rescue below and read about it here.

Go with a friend

If something happens to you when you’re out by yourself, who will call for help? If you’re able to, find likeminded people and rambling groups to go with. It’s often more fun when you can share the experience.

If you go by yourself, let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back – and tell them you will check in with them when you’re back safely. It might seem overly cautious, but you just never know when something will go wrong. Be sure to have someone looking out for you, one way or another.

Friends on a Sussex coastal path on a sunny dayPhoto: Anna Burn
Friends on a Sussex coastal path on a sunny day

And say hello to people you meet along the way

It’s a sad fact that every year our crews get called to around 965 people in distress on our coasts. And research shows that 90% of people who have an intervention do not go on to die from suicide.

It may seem a simple thing, but just saying hello can make a difference to someone in a moment of crisis.

Never make assumptions but try to greet everyone you meet along the way with a smile and a pleasant word. You just never know when someone needs a friendly face.

If you do see someone you have concerns about, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. Our crews never mind going out to a false alarm with good intent.

What’s in your pack when you head out to the coast in the springtime? Share your must-haves and top tips in the comments below.