RESCUERS are urging day-trippers visiting a popular North Tyneside tourist attraction to make sure they check the tide times first so they don’t end up stranded.
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade and the Cullercoats inshore lifeboat have been called out five times so far this year to St Mary’s Island to help visitors cut off by the tide.
Three of those call-outs have come in the last five weeks.
This year’s tally of call-outs is well up on the previous annual average of one or two rescues.
The latest incident – reported in last week’s News Guardian – occurred on Monday, September 10.
On that occasion, two adults and three children were cut off by the tide and had to be rescued by the lifeboat.
Nine days before that, 15 people were cut off after failing to notice the tide coming in, but four of them, a father and his three children, managed to wade across the causeway before emergency crews arrived
Previous rescues took place on August 23, May 26 and March 25.
Life brigade captain Peter Lilley said that although the rescues are becoming a bit of a problem, it is better for those involved to call the emergency services rather than risk wading back across the causeway.
He said: “We’d rather get called out, along with the lifeboat, than for people to attempt to cross the causeway.
“At least, most people who get stranded on the island aren’t risking their lives.
“We remember the diver who lost her life after the accident on the causeway in 2006. That’s still fresh in our memory.
“Someone might see another person wading across the causeway and give it a go, but, as well as the strong currents, one wrong step and you could slip off or lose your balance.”
Call-outs to the island aside, the brigade has had a quiet year so far, only being called out 65 times compared to the average of 100 in previous years up until September.
One potential reason for that is the warmer weather the borough has experienced on days when the high tide came in the middle of the afternoon.
There has also been a reported increase in seal activity on the far side of the island, leading to visitors staying longer to watch the creatures and losing track of time while unable to see the causeway.
Peter also suggested the the signs leading to the causeway could be improved, so the day’s high tides were clearly visible to visitors.
“There are warning notices up, but they aren’t clear as they could be,” he said. “There is a chance to improve the signage.
“At Holy Island, they have invested in signs, and that seems to have reduced the number of incidents, although there isn’t the same danger down at St Mary’s.
“If there wasn’t a problem at St Mary’s, then we would be called out less.”
A spokesperson for North Tyneside Council said: “There are existing notices in the car park at the start of the causeway, as well as on the island itself and in the shop area of the lighthouse.
“They remind anyone travelling to the lighthouse of their personal responsibility to check the tide times before making any journey.”
“While we have received no formal approach from the Tynemouth Volunteer Lifeboat Brigade or the RNLI with regard to improvement of signage, since we meet with them regularly, we will discuss this matter.”