Listen to the lifeguards

They’re not trying to audition for Baywatch, they’re not tourist guides, and they definitely aren’t supposed to babysit your children. Instead, their job consists of saving lives, by rescuing swimmers that get into trouble at sea. Enjoy the Algarve talks to lifeguards Tiago Fraústo and Tiago Fagundes in Fuseta. “Follow our advice; it’s for your own safety.”

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017


The water is a bit choppy because of the wind, but since it’s located in a sandy bay, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the island of Armona, the sea at Praia da Fuseta Ria looks tranquil and safe. And that’s exactly what makes it dangerous. “There are no waves here, so it seems pretty calm, but when the tide goes out, the current is extremely strong,” explains Tiago Fagundes (20) (pictured on the right). “This place might look like a paddling pool, but it certainly isn’t. The ocean inlet is only about 1km away,” adds his colleague Tiago Fraústo (also 20) (pictured on the left).

Just last week, both guys had to save a woman with a stand up paddleboard, who fell into the water and didn’t manage to get up on her board again. The current dragged her close to the rocks and into the channel that’s also used by the ferry and other boats. The lifeguards came into action with their yellow rescue board, which features extra hand grips, and managed to get the woman safely on shore. They expect some similar accidents to happen this season, as it’s the first year SUP-boards can be rented directly on this beach. In the summer of 2016, all the 13 people saved by Tiago Fraústo, who is now in his third year of working as a lifeguard, were swimmers.

All of the Algarve’s Blue Flag beaches have lifeguards on duty from the first of June to the end of September. Every day from 9am to 7pm, these 88 beaches are supervised by the nadadores salvadores, who are easily recognisable by their orange shorts and yellow t-shirts. The training for this summer job is coordinated by the Portuguese Lifeguard Institute (ISN) and takes an entire month. During this course, the lifeguards don’t only learn about the correct use of flotation devices, basic life support and first aid, but also manoeuvres to save someone from drowning. All candidates must be strong swimmers; the requirements include being able to swim 100 metres in under 1.40min, swim 400m in under 9.15min, and swim underwater for 25 metres.

Keeping an eye on the few swimmers in the water while scanning the beach, Tiago and Tiago are ever-vigilant, aware of the responsibility that comes with their job. If it’d be only up to them, Praia da Fuseta Ria would be a very safe place indeed. It isn’t though: the problem lies with the attitude of the beach-goers. “A lot of people don’t care about what you tell them,” both lifeguards explain. “With low tide, they go for a swim near the rocks on the eastern side on the beach. We tell them not to do this as it’s dangerous, but they don’t listen.” Afterwards, many of those swimmers come to the lifeguard post covered in scratches and cuts from the rocks, asking for a plaster or bandage from the post’s extensive first-aid kit.

Other requests the lifeguards regularly get include helping to find lost property or lost children, and loads of questions: about the times of the tide, the temperature of the sea water and where to catch the ferry to Ilha da Armona. All which they’ll happily respond to. “It does get annoying when parents leave their children alone on the beach and in the water,” they admit. “Sometimes, people see us and think we’re there to babysit, so they don’t look after their kids at all anymore.” This parental negligence makes the duty of safeguarding the beach even harder. “It can definitely be a challenging job, especially when the entire beach is full and there are lots of people in the water,” admits Tiago Fraústo. “However, with the majority of the rescues I’ve experienced, the people in trouble were screaming or waving, which made them easy to spot. Also, most people on the beach immediately notify us if they think a swimmer might be in danger.”

However, it seems not everyone is equally considered about their safety. Daily, Tiago and Tiago deal with tourists who try to cross to the island at low tide, swim past the yellow buoys that mark the designated swimming area and don’t react when they’re whistled back. “It happens multiple times every day. Some Portuguese think that because they’re local, they know the ocean, whereas some foreigners think that because they know how to swim, they won’t drown.” This isn’t automatically the case tough. Last year, a person, who allegedly was drunk, drowned at Fuseta when trying to cross over to Ilha da Armona where a party was held. This happened at night, when there aren’t any lifeguards on the beach.

Drunk and disorderly people cause more problems in the evening. Just recently, vandals stole the signs stating the beach rules and destroyed the cover that provides the lifeguard post with shade. Still, both nadadores salvadores love their job, and this particular beach. “I’ll definitely do this again next season. We have lots of friends here; it feels like family,” says Tiago Fagundes, who lives in Fuseta and is in his first year as a lifeguard. “It’s an accessible beach and there’s no need to take a boat in order to get there. Also, it’s a nice community with a good mixture of older people, youngsters and families on this beach,” agrees Tiago Fraústo, who lives in the nearby city of Olhão.

The main reason they do this job, though, is the rewarding feeling of being able to rescue people from drowning. “We like helping others,” is their simple reply. Now only if those other people would help themselves as well…

Most important advice for anyone who enters the sea: swim parallel to the beach and don’t go too far into the water. Also, respect the flag system, which is like a traffic light: green flag means it’s OK to swim, a yellow flag indicates that you can’t swim, but are allowed to go into the water until it reaches your hips, and when there’s a red flag you can’t enter the sea at all. But above all: next time you’re whistled at by a lifeguard, stop what you’re doing and turn around. Conclusion of both lifeguards: “Do follow our advice; it’s for your own safety.”


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017


Posted in Features.