Beaches near the Palace Pier in Brighton will be closed today to stop people going into the sea for a Christmas Day dip.
Brighton and Hove City Council also issued a warning about the dangers of winter swimming in the area although the wet and windy weather may prove a better deterrent.
The council said that it would “once again be taking extra measures to discourage swimmers from taking a Christmas Day dip by closing access to the beaches” by the pier.
The council’s seafront manager Chris Ingall said: “As open water swimming has become more popular over the last five years, we are seeing more groups of swimmers gathering for winter swim sessions.
“It is extremely important that those wishing to enjoy this invigorating and extreme form of free and healthy activity fully understand the real dangers involved.
“Cold water sea swimming takes skill, stamina and knowledge of the physical dangers and should only be for the very experienced, using suitable wetsuits, in very calm conditions and with friends.
“Even on a calm day sea currents, unpredictable waves or a sudden change in weather can create life-threatening hazards without warning. Even experienced swimmers can get caught out.
“Check the conditions on the day and consider all those in the group. The sea will be there tomorrow. Don’t take unnecessary risks that could threaten your life or others trying to help.”
Mr Ingall said that the seafront team was always happy to advise swimmers on sea conditions, adding: “We have constant updates on the weather conditions and would urge anyone wondering whether it’s safe to swim to ask us first.”
He said: “Everyone enjoys a bracing stroll on the promenade over the festive season but we would urge people to stay on the path or high up on the beach, especially when the sea conditions are rough.”
Mr Ingall explained how the beach at Brighton and Hove differed from other south coast beaches and had hidden dangers.
He said: “Unlike many other beaches, where you can gradually enter the water, Brighton and Hove beach has a steep shingle slope making it difficult to leave and enter the water especially during the four hours over the high tide period.
“The combination of winds coming in from multiple directions and steep shingle banks increases the risk of being swept out to sea.”
Dog owners are also being advised to keep their pets on leads and away from the shoreline in rough sea conditions.
The council said: “The recent Youtube footage of a woman being swept off her feet by powerful and crashing waves as she attempted to rescue her dog, captured the dangers of entering the sea.”
Mr Ingall added: “The woman had a very lucky escape. If she had been any deeper in, that wave would have come behind her, over the top of her and pushed her down into deep water.
“Fortunately, the force of the water pushed her back up the beach, otherwise there could have been a very different outcome.”
The council urged parents to keep a close eye on children, holding their hands when on the beach and stopping them from playing “chicken” with the surf washing up the beach.
The fire service said: “For many people a festive dip in the sea is a seasonal Christmas tradition.
“East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are supporting the RNLI and encouraging those who plan on taking part in festive swims to join a scheduled event, as they will be with others swimmers as well as safety staff.
“However, the bad festive weather forecast may mean that local events will need to be cancelled due to strong winds and rough seas making the beaches extremely dangerous over the coming week.
“Brighton and Hove City Council has already announced it will be closing the section of Brighton beach closest to Brighton Palace Pier from 9am on Christmas morning due to safety concerns.”
The fire service’s water safety co-ordinator Andrea Emery said: “We want everyone to enjoy the water but to do so sensibly and never enter the water during hazardous weather conditions.
“The power of the sea is formidable and it can all too easily end in tragedy.
“Alcohol and cold water are also an extremely dangerous combination. Even a small amount of alcohol can speed up the onset of hypothermia in cold water.”
RNLI lifesaving delivery manager Matt Crofts, said: “Before going in, we urge people to remember the risks of cold water shock and what to do if it happens to them. The simple act of floating could save your life.
• Cold water shock is a physiological response which causes uncontrollable gasping. This increases the risk of you swallowing water and puts a strain on your heart – in extreme cases it can cause cardiac arrest. If you feel you this happening to you, fight your instinct to thrash around and swim hard, instead just lie back and float. The initial shock will pass within 60 to 90 seconds and when you have regained control of your breathing, you can then try swimming to safety or calling for help. This skill will give you a far better chance of staying alive.
• If you see someone else in trouble in the water, fight the instinct to go in yourself. Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
“The RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, aims to raise awareness of key hazards like cold water shock, and lifesaving skills like floating.
“Find out more about how to float and cold water shock by visiting www.RespectTheWater.com.”
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