Water safety campaign launched as data shows 35m plan to visit coast

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), with the support of Her Majesty’s Coastguard (HM), has launched a water safety campaign as new research reveals around 35 million people plan to visit the UK coast this summer.[1].

In a survey commissioned by the RNLI, 85% of the UK adult population (aged 16-64) expect to visit the UK coast or use the beach or sea by the end of September, up from 75% this this time the last time. year. 42% expect to go three or more times[2].

Ahead of the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and the half-term holidays, the RNLI, with the support of HM Coastguard, is launching a water safety campaign, urging everyone to remember that if you run into trouble in the water, Float to Live. To do this: Lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. In the event of a coastal emergency, call 999 or 112 for the Coast Guard.

There were 277 deaths in the UK from accidental drowning in 2021, across inland and coastal regions, an increase of 23 from the previous year. 40% of those who died had no intention of entering water, like those who walked, with causes including slips, trips and falls, being cut off by the tide or swept away by waves[3].

Using the Float to Live technique has saved the lives of many people, including Dave Henderson, 52, from Ilminster and Brian Harding, 73, from Chard. They were on a fishing trip on the River Axe, near Axmouth, when they got into trouble in the water.

They had been on the boat for some time, it was a calm, sunny evening and they were heading back to shore. Suddenly, a freak wave hit their boat and it capsized, throwing them into the water just as it was getting dark. Once in the water, Dave, who suffers from a heart condition, could feel the current of the river carrying him out to sea. He knew he couldn’t swim long enough or hard enough to get back to shore.

He remembers seeing an RNLI poster at his local yacht club which explained that if you have difficulty in the water you should float for a living:
lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. Using this advice, he lay down on his back and floated around waiting for help to arrive.

Luckily for Dave and Brian, a fisherman taking photos of the sunset saw what happened and raised the alarm by calling 999 and asking for the Coast Guard.

Dave said: “I was in the water for 20 or 30 minutes. I’ve never been in water like this, so I focused on what I needed to do before my brain started shutting down, because I knew I was at risk for hyperthermia. At my local yacht club there is an RNLI poster with Float to Live advice on this, I walk past it every day so it really reinforced the message, I knew I had to lay in the water while we waited for help.

“I feel extremely lucky to be alive. There were so many things that were important to our rescue, from the bystander on the beach who knew what to do and called 999 and asked for the coastguard, to the speed which the RNLI was able to launch in. I am also very grateful to have seen this RNLI poster so many times that I instinctively knew how to float for a living.

Brian had even more difficulty in the water because his leg was in a cast. At first he also tried to swim and fight against the current. It was too hard though, especially with his leg in a cast and he knew he wouldn’t have the energy to go on for long.

Brian said: “I was in the water for a long time. I could feel the current of the river pulling me out, it must have been about half a mile away. I tried to swim and fight against the current, but it was not possible. I had no choice but to start floating on my back. The water was freezing cold and it was really dark at this point, using Float to Live gave me that vital time to catch my breath while we waited for help to arrive. I am so grateful to the RNLI who arrived on the scene and rescued us. I wouldn’t be here today without them.

The Lyme Regis RNLI lifeboat station was called into action and crew members quickly arrived on the scene. They managed to locate and rescue Dave and Brian who have fully recovered since the incident and can be credited with floating on their backs while they waited for help for saving their lives.

Gabbi Batchelor, Head of Water Safety Education at the RNLI, said: “We expect the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and half term holidays to be incredibly busy on the coast. We want everyone to enjoy their trip, but we also want to make sure people stay safe and know what to do in an emergency.

“It is important that anyone visiting the coast understands the risks of the environment. This can be very unpredictable, especially in early summer when the risk of cold water shock increases dramatically, as the air temperature warms up but the water temperature remains dangerously cold.

“If you are having trouble in the water, Float to Live: Lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. In case of a coastal emergency, call 999 or 112 for the coast guard.

The RNLI is also reminding people to visit a supervised beach and swim between red and yellow flags this summer.

Jon, from Yorkshire, was spending the last day of his Cornish holiday paddling waist-deep on Mawgan Porth beach when RNLI lifeguard Alex spotted him being carried out to sea by a very strong rip current.

After several attempts to make it back to shore and as the tear quickly dragged him farther out to sea, Jon was struggling to keep his head above water when he remembered the RNLI’s safety advice at Float to Live from his police training and read RNLI safety messages over the years.

By leaning back in the water, stretching out his arms and legs and resisting the urge to struggle, Jon was able to control his breathing and stay afloat as lifeguard Alex paddled towards him on a rescue board. After battling the rip current, Alex was joined by two other rescuers and they all managed to get Jon onto the Rescue Watercraft (RWC) and brought him safely to shore.

Jon was in shock and had swallowed a lot of water but was otherwise uninjured. After such a traumatic experience, rescuers were impressed with Jon’s ability to cope.

Jon said: “I tried to do everything right, but it was completely out of my control.

“The waves were taking me, I was rolling and getting back up, I was breathing, then my head was back and that’s when I thought ‘this is it’. When I saw Alex , I have never been so happy to see someone in my life. The four lifeguards did so well, it was great. I can’t find enough words to thank or congratulate them. It’s also amazing that the rescuers who saved me also won awards for bravery.

Gabbi Batchelor, Water Safety Education Manager at the RNLI, said: ‘As the coast gets busier now that the weather is warmer, we would also like to remind people to visit a supervised beach and to swim between the red and yellow flags. It is important to remember to swim between these flags as lifeguards place them on the safest body of water and patrol that area.

For more information on the Water Safety Campaign visit: RNLI.org/FloatUK2022

A full list of RNLI lifeguarded beaches can be found here: rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeguarded-beaches

[1] Office for National Statistics: UK population aged 16-64 in 2021: 41.2 million

[2] Basis Research, RNLI Water Safety Survey, April 2022. Representative sample of 1,013 UK adults aged 16-64 / 505 Irish adults aged 16-64

RNLI Highlights

The charity RNLI saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service along the coasts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The RNLI operates 238 lifeguard stations in the UK and Ireland and over 240 lifeguard units on beaches in the UK and the Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of the coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its lifesaving service. Since the RNLI’s inception in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved more than 142,700 lives.

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Contact the RNLI – public inquiries

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