LIFEBOAT officials have welcomed the introduction of a new sea safety regime at Minehead by Somerset West and Taunton Council.

It will warn beach users of the dangers of swimming or using inflatables when an offshore wind is blowing. And the RNLI says the need for it was underlined by another incident on Thursday of last week.

Concerns about the old system of red warning flags were raised in early June when despite an offshore breeze none had been hoisted and two girls aged nine and seven had to be rescued by the volunteer lifeboat crew after being blown more than half a mile out to sea on a large inflatable swan.

At the time council officials claimed the criteria for raising the flags had not been met because the wind was not strong enough – even though the inflatable had been swept out against the incoming tide.

But following concerns raised by the town’s Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger the council has now told him flagpoles at the various access points to the beach are to be fitted with orange windsocks, with associated signs warning people against entering the water when they are pointing seawards.

Minehead RNLI chairman Bryan Stoner said everyone concerned with sea safety at the resort would be reassured by the new system’s introduction.

“We originally campaigned for West Somerset District Council to adopt the red flags more than 30 years ago after a spate of incidents involving inflatables blown out to sea, one of which led to the drowning of a nine year old boy within his parents’ sight,” he said.

“That system seemed to have fallen into disuse. But we are delighted the new council has recognised its responsibilities as a coastal authority and is putting the new one in place.

“It will provide the clearest possibly indication to locals and holidaymakers alike as to when it is safe to enter the water and when it is not.”

The continuing danger posed by offshore winds was underlined last Thursday when Minehead’s D-class boat was launched to intercept a large inflatable sloth which had been carried more than half a mile from the beach on a south-easterly wind.

Helm Phil Sanderson said: “From the shore it looked as though there was someone on it, though when we got to it we realised that was due to the design of the thing. It was unoccupied – but in circumstances like that you cannot take a chance.

“But we did a sweep along the beach afterwards and there were loads of children on inflatables – obviously because there were no warnings in place.”

Meanwhile the station has taken delivery of a replacement launch vehicle for its Atlantic 85 lifeboat. It’s a Talus amphibious tractor, specifically designed for the RNLI. They were originally introduced to launch its larger, all-weather lifeboats but are now progressively being withdrawn from service as the new Shannon class lifeboats with their own launch and recovery vehicles are introduced.

It weighs 19 tons and can operate in up to two metres of water thanks to its waterproofed cab.

The Talus replaces the station’s ageing Case tractor which after more than 40 years’ service was reaching the end of its working life and was one of the last two of its type operating in the country.

Local operations manager Dr John Higgie said the station welcomed the arrival of a newer and more powerful vehicle.

“It reflects the fact we have one of the most challenging launch sites of any lifeboat station in the country, particularly with the way the profile of the beach can change overnight through tidal action,” he said.

“There have been many instances where the Case struggled with conditions on the beach when recovering the boat. But the Talus should cope comfortably and make both launching and recovery safer."