Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Saturday, 26 December 2009

Lifeguards on patrol at Christmas

RNLI lifeguard vehicle on Boscombe beach
Boscombe beach is the RNLI's only year-round operation

The RNLI's only year-round lifeguards have spent their first Christmas working at Europe's first artificial surf reef in Dorset.

Three lifeguards are providing cover at Boscombe beach throughout the festive season, including two on Christmas day.

Bournemouth Borough Council is funding the new year-round operation. RNLI lifeguards normally operate on beaches only until autumn.

RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews were also on standby across the Dorset coast.

Michael Winter, 27 and Andy Reakes, 23, are the lifeguards who were due to be on duty on Christmas Day.

Mr Winter said as he prepared for his shift: "We're preparing for a busy time on Christmas day.

"We've got our fingers crossed for some surf and hopefully the reef will be working, but I am sure there will be plenty of people making the most of their day with the family and wanting to get into the water whatever the conditions."

Beginners practise

He said anyone going down to the reef during the Christmas holiday should "come and have a chat" before entering the water and should think sensibly about their equipment and how cold the sea would be.

"If they haven't been to the surf reef yet, or they are beginners, it would be a good idea to have a chat with us first.

"We'd love to share some of our festive cheer, but it's also important, as we can advise on how the waves break and the currents around the reef."

He said there was usually a small wave on the east of the pier in front of the lifeguard unit that beginners could practise on.

The surf reef was built by New Zealand-based ASR to enhance waves using 55 sand-filled "geotextile bags".

It finally opened on 2 November a year behind schedule, pushing the cost to £3m - nearly double the original price.

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