As the annual statistics for the RNLI are released, numbers show that the charity’s new lifeguards in Thanet have proved their worth over last summer, with almost one in ten beach visitors speaking directly with a lifeguard for advice.

The lifeguard service, which ran on 10 beaches* in Thanet from May to September, went to the aid of 664 beachgoers. The number covers all help given, from major and minor first aid to missing children and in-water rescues, such as the dramatic rescue of a 4- and 6-year-old who were struggling in the water at Westbrook Bay in July.

With an estimated 320,000 beach and water users visiting the area during lifeguard patrol hours, the relatively small figure demonstrates how 95% of an RNLI lifeguard’s work is preventative. Highly-trained to identify risks and hazards, and explain them to beachgoers before they develop into a problem, lifeguards at Thanet chatted with nearly 30,000 people across the summer about everything from tides to the dangers of inflatables.

Cabinet Member for Operational Services at Thanet District Council, Cllr Alan Poole, said: ‘We’re really pleased with the excellent service provided by the RNLI this year. Thanet is famous for its first class family beaches and linking in with the RNLI has helped to raise the standards of safety right across the district.’

Overall the RNLI’s lifeboats launched a total 8,321 times in 2012, down on the previous year by 6.7%. Around the UK and ROI volunteer crews spent nearly 70,000 hours at sea responding to calls for assistance.

This trend was reflected in Kent, where lifeboat launches were down 10.5% from 390 in 2011 to 349 in 2012. Yet at Sheerness the highest number of service hours at sea in East Anglia and the South East was recorded, at 1,041 hours – that’s the equivalent of over 43 days.

Dungeness was the one station in the area which saw the highest number of launches (13) in 5 years. On 3 January 2012, the crew faced horrendous storm force 11 conditions when they went to the aid of a stricken yacht Liquid Vortex. With the help of Dover RNLI lifeboat seven lives were saved, and crewman Garry Clark was later awarded an RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry and a BBC 999 Award.

Andrew Ashton, RNLI Regional Operations Manager for the East, said: ‘Despite the poor weather with people tending to visit the coast less, the Kent stations have had another busy year saving lives at sea. It’s not just the number of shouts we should acknowledge, but the nature of them: volunteer crew have met difficult conditions, distressing scenes and long hours with unwavering dedication.

‘The eight lifeboat stations in Kent clocked up nearly 3,400 hours at sea on rescues in 2012. These were hours given by crew without a second thought, away from their families, and often thanks to the consideration of local employers who allow them to “down tools” the moment the pager sounds.’

RNLI Operations Director, Michael Vlasto, added: ‘And it’s not just our crew who are committed to our charity – they wouldn’t be able to carry out their lifesaving work without the incredible generosity of the public and I would like to say a huge “thank you” to all those who support the RNLI, whether by giving up their time or by making a donation.’

Other memorable moments from 2012 include:

• Dover lifeboat had the happy task of bringing the Olympic torch into the town in July.
• Whitstable were tasked in October to a boat which had become swamped off Herne Bay.
• Margate urged small craft owners to check their charts were up to date as a cruiser ran aground on the Hook Sands.
• Ramsgate rescued a fishing boat which had been struck by lightning in April.
• Walmer had a busy – but efficient – day in August when they carried out three different rescues in one launch.