There is fury today (Friday) over a lack of lifeguard cover that "will cost lives" as a huge 'widow-maker' swell prepares to hit the coast, writes Tom Bevan.

Waves up to 16ft high are being forecast that combined with no lifeguards on duty will be a "recipe for disaster."

The worst of the conditions are expected this afternoon (Friday) and on Saturday along the north coast of Cornwall and Devon.

The RNLI, which would normally be two weeks into its main season, is not currently patrolling any beaches and is rolling out a vastly reduced lifeguard service "in phases" from the end of the month.

But the charity has confirmed there will be no cover over the busy bank holiday weekend despite sun-seekers flocking back to the coast in recent days.

This decision will absolutely lead to unnecessary deaths

The announcement has led to anger from lifeguards who fear the removal of life-saving services will have tragic consequences.

Steve Instance, RNLI lead for Water Safety in the south west, said: "This swell forecast is very worrying for north coast of Devon and Cornwall.

"A normal morning surf will build to over 15 feet in a couple of hours.

"Combined with incoming spring tide and no lifeguards, this could be a recipe for disaster.

"Keep out of the water on Friday afternoon please."

Around a third of the 90 beaches will have any cover at all in the south west this summer and will be chosen on risk and popularity.

The majority of lifeguards haven't been furloughed as many of them are classed as seasonal workers and not covered by the scheme.

One lifeguard, who normally covers beaches in Cornwall, said: "This decision will absolutely lead to unnecessary deaths and that opinion is reflected by every lifeguard I know.

"I'm very apprehensive about the first time we hear about a death that could have been avoided.

"We have spent years ensuring the numbers of casualties has decreased. Seeing that disintegrate in our hands is a bitter pill."

It is understood that in Cornwall, popular beaches at St Agnes, Chapel Porth, Holywell and Portreath are among those likely to be without cover during the summer.

A 'drastically reduced service' is set to start on Perranporth on May 30 and Porthtowan on June 20.

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Lifeguards said it could only be a "financial decision" by the RNLI due to the impact the virus has had on it.

And after beaches were packed with a mini heat wave this week, the mayor of Bude in Cornwall, described the decision by the RNLI as "ridiculous."

Mayor Bob Willingham said there were 13 rescues on Wednesday in Bude and local swimmers and surfers had to go and rescue people.

There have also been several rescues on Cornwall's beaches in the last two days by off-duty lifeguards who happened to spot people getting into trouble.

Lukasz Kowalski helped a 10-year-old boy who had been swept off his feet, through pounding 4ft shorebreak and into a rip current at Chapel Porth, Cornwall.

The boy was brought back to shore unharmed by Mr Kowalski, who happened to be in the water taking photos, on Wednesday.

"The number of people is going to increase because the weather is beautiful," he said.

"People just want to get out and they don't think about safety.

"He was lucky I was there."

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Adam Richards, chairman of Porthtowan Surf Lifesaving Club in Cornwall, was surfing when he spotted a young boy and his father caught in a rip current on 16 May and brought them back to the beach on his surfboard.

"As there wasn't a flagged bathing area set up, there was no indication on the beach of the safe place to go into the sea," he said.

"There is going to be some big surf this Saturday.

"I would advise people... please don't go in the sea unless you know what you are doing."

Steve England, of surfing magazine Carve, also predicted the conditions and the "loosening of lockdown restrictions could be recipe for disaster".

...the weather is good and there's a big swell on the way so for those who are caught out in the water, it's a perfect storm

Mr England warned that tourists could be caught unawares this weekend by tidal surges and rip tides and were liable to get out of their depths.

Tom McRitchie, 23, an RNLI lifeguard and patrol leader with rescue charity Surf Life Saving (SLS), usually patrols at Perranporth, Cornwall.

He said he was aware of holes in the sand which meant people could be up to their necks in water with just one wrong step.

"The lockdown has been relaxed, the weather is good and there's a big swell on the way so for those who are caught out in the water, it's a perfect storm," he said.

The SLS, which is looking for sponsors to fund equipment, is asking members to volunteer as "beach wardens" to monitor and report incidents to the coastguards and lifeboat crews.

"I feel a bit helpless in a way," Mr McRitchie said.

"I know the dangers so not being able to do the job is frustrating.

"It's a weird situation not being able to do the job I love."

The RNLI confirmed it is rolling out a reduced lifeguard service "in phases" from the end of the month.

It has said only 30 per cent of the beaches it would usually patrol will be covered in the summer.

In conjunction with the Coastguard, it has launched a joint water safety campaign reminding families it "cannot be everywhere this summer".

"We are working with local authorities and landowners to provide a lifeguard service on beaches as quickly as possible," said a spokeswoman.

"Setting up a lifeguard service on any beach takes time, while we have done as much as we can to prepare during lockdown, there was limit to what we could do under the government's restrictions."