"They are fitter, stronger and tougher."

On a wet and misty morning in Salthill a group of lifeguards are being put through their paces.

As they race across the cold, wet sand, their trainer Andrew Lally, a dentist and a volunteer, explains how this year's training has made for "hardier" lifeguards.

Usually, their training would take place in swimming pools, but they are closed because of public health restrictions.

"They've all had their wetsuits out since before St Patrick's Day, and they've been in and out of the water every weekend," he said.

Training on beaches has been a good way to get used to the "tougher conditions".

"If there are storms during the summer, we'll be confident that we have the training to handle it," said Sinead Ready, a lifeguard who has been covering beaches around Galway for the past four years.

The official season runs from June until September, when over 400 men and women certified as lifeguards will be posted at beaches and lakes.

A normal Irish summer could be a lonely one for a lifeguard but this year Irish beaches are likely to be a hot destination, even if the weather isn't it.

"It's going to be an awful lot busier this year," said Andrew Lally.

"People who would normally only swim a small amount of time in the summer or abroad on holidays are now swimming 12 months of the year."

Last year, 468 people were rescued by lifeguards and first aid was given to 3,450. Seven swimmers died last summer.

Lisa Wall recalls a rescue two years ago, when someone got into difficulty outside the swimming flag zone and another member of the public, who couldn't swim, tried to help him.

"They were both drowning and it was quite a stormy day," she remembered.

"I had to go out on the rescue board and bring them both back in. I got them both to hold onto the back of the board."

"It was difficult paddling them back in but I got there in the end," she said.

Certification of new lifeguards was cancelled last year because of Covid restrictions and local authorities are playing catch up this year.

"We're bringing new people on board that would have nearly completed their certification before Covid," explained Water Safety Development Officer with Galway County Council, Shane Coogan.

"Last year, we were lucky that we had enough numbers trained but it was challenging," he said.

On average, 120 people drown in Ireland each year, the majority happen at inland water sites, and areas not designated for bathing.

One of the biggest worries for lifeguards this summer is inflatable devices. Rescues involving air beds and floating toys have increased threefold in recent years.

"It depends on which way the wind is blowing, if it's onshore you can't go very far in your inflatable," said Andrew Lally.

"If it's offshore, you could end up at the Aran Islands, next stop America."