Two specially adapted John Deere TH 6x4 Gator utility vehicles are providing a vital public service on the award-winning Cleethorpes beach in North East Lincolnshire.
Supplied by John Deere dealer F G Adamson & Son of North Ferriby, near Hull, the Gators are used by the North East Lincolnshire Council's beach safety officers to patrol five miles of beach. Based around the tides, each of the vehicles works for an average of two hours every day of the year.
Both Gators are equipped with a cab for winter protection, plus a PA system, internal two-way radio, siren, warning beacons, a detachable winch and a land anchor. The batteries also feature a special plug-in cable to make it easier to jump start the 18hp diesel engine if necessary, as the extra electrical options place a greater load on the batteries. The vehicles can also be used with a V-blade for clearing sand off public paths and levelling sandbanks.
"When the tide goes out, the beach stretches to around 1.5 miles, and it's easy for people to suddenly get cut off on sandbanks when the tide comes back in," says the council's portfolio holder for environment, councillor Peter Burgess. "The Gators help us to warn visitors about the tides, and allow us to cover a much greater area far more quickly than we could do on foot - if the beach safety officers had to walk, we'd probably need a dozen or so more staff to do the same job.
"Our first Gators were hire machines, supplied by the dealer, and they proved themselves in the salt water environment by lasting five years, so when we got capital budget approval to buy two new machines we were very happy to stick with them. It's important to maintain the vehicles properly against the conditions, by regular greasing, chain tightening and adjustment, and ensuring they are washed down daily to prevent corrosion.
"The tyre pressures are also recorded every day before the vehicles go out, to maintain pressures between 6 and 8psi. Because lives may be at risk, it's obviously vital that the Gators never break down or get stuck, but they never have so far.
"The vehicles' weight is spread evenly over the six wheels, so they cope equally well with both sand and tidal mud. Cleethorpes beach is an SSSI and nature reserve, se we had to get permission from Natural England to take the Gators onto the beach areas, which was not a problem.
"In fact it's now council health and safety policy not to take standard off-road vehicles onto the beach except in emergencies, in case the brakes subsequently fail due to salt water corrosion, so the Gators are an ideal substitute."