Beaches across France are warning they do not have enough lifeguards to cover August, it has emerged.
La Société nationale de sauvetage en mer (SNSM) has said it is launching an emergency recruitment campaign to try and rectify the situation.
“In August, many beaches in France will not be supervised, as there is not enough staff,” said SNSM, which provides lifeguards, and is also the coastguard.
SNSM has also opened its ranks to a broader range of recruits. Normally, the association requires six diplomas and one year's training.
But now, anyone with the qualifications of the Brevet national de sécurité et de sauvetage aquatique (BNSSA) and the Premiers secours en équipe de niveau 1 can apply to be part of the SNSM from next month.
People who would like to apply for August are invited to email their application as soon as possible.
The SNSM is also hoping that this summer’s recruitment will lead to more lifeguards for next year. Next year could require even more lifeguards than normal due to extra visitors in France for the Paris Olympics.
The association said: “We will also invite [applicants] to continue their training next year if they want to obtain the four remaining qualifications.”
People who would like to go through the full SNSM training for 2024 are also invited to apply now, via the SNSM website.
In France, mairies are responsible for beach safety within 300 metres of the shore. Lifeguards from the SNSM are typically employed and paid seasonally. They are normally given free accommodation nearby as part of their summer package.
What types of lifeguards are there in France?
There are two kinds of lifeguards. Firstly, the ‘nageur-sauveteur (swimmer-saver)’ and the ‘maître nageur-sauveteur’ (MNS, master swimmer-saver).
The latter is also a swim instructor and a water safety expert, but France is lacking 5,000 of these. This may be because the MNS level requires more training and is not necessary for seasonal work.
Lifeguards are also typically required to work antisocial hours, including weekends, evenings, and holidays.
Christel Clapies, an instructor at CREPS PACA, a school that trains MNSs in the south of France, told The Connexion: “In terms of rescue and first aid, the nageur-sauveteur is just as qualified as the MNS, so you will be safe regardless.
“But in the long term, it does mean that fewer people will learn how to swim, and that is the bigger issue.”
Drowning fatalities increase slightly
Between June 1 and July 12, 2023, 362 drowning incidents were recorded across France, of which 109 were fatal (30%), show figures from health authority Santé publique France (SPF).
Between the years 2021 and 2023, the total number of incidents during the six weeks of summer dropped by 19%, SPF said. However, there was a slight increase in deaths, from 25% of incidents in 2021 to 30% in 2023.
Adults are most likely to die following drowning incidents, with 53% fatalities in adults compared to just 3% among children aged under six.
SPF suggested that the lifting of Covid restrictions in 2021, combined with good weather, could be a reason for more people going swimming in the sea, and therefore more people getting into difficulty.
Warning against false alerts
Coastguards in France have also warned people against calling them for minor issues (such as a stuck buoy, or property left on the beach), and to only call in a genuine emergency.
They also warned people to let others know if they are going into the sea, and to pick up all their belongings when returning home after using the beach, to avoid others mistakenly thinking that they may still be in the water.
Quentin de Fierville, a member of the coastguard team in Bandol, Var, told BFMTV: “If we are going after a false alarm, the time it takes to figure out that it’s a false alarm, we’re not available for a real emergency, such as someone in the water in real difficulty.”
To call the coastguard for a genuine emergency in France, dial 196 or 112.