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Respect the Water

Respect the water logo

We know that the water is a great place to have fun - there's no better way to get outdoors and stay fit. And for many communities in the UK and Ireland the water is a way of life. But our seas, coastlines and inland waterways can be unpredictable and dangerous places.

In 2013, 167 people died in water-related incidents around the UK coast. More than two thirds of them were men. That's more than those killed in cycling accidents. However, if you take some simple precautions you can significantly reduce your chances of getting into trouble.


Whatever your activity, whatever your ability, water is unpredictable. It's all to easy to underestimate its power. You might think that adrenaline sports and rough weather pose the greatest threat, but casual, everyday use of the coast and sea often causes fatalities. That’s why you need to be prepared if something were to ever go wrong.

Simply select your activity to see our safety tips, expert advice, real life stories and more.

Changing just one small thing can make a big difference to your safety and help you get the most out of your time on the water. So get out there and enjoy it!

Choose your activity

Watch our video

Hear from Elizabeth Toogood, whose uncle Lee drowned while out swimming in Weston-super-Mare. Also in this video, the RNLI’s Ross Macleod explains the extent of the UK’s drowning problem and the reasoning behind the Respect the Water campaign.

Tidal cut off

Tidal cut off logo

Swimming and other watersports aren't the only ways that people get into trouble at the beach. Tidal cut off also contributes to a significant number of RNLI rescues every year.

Because tide times and heights vary throughout the month, a beach that was clear yesterday at 5pm might be completely covered in sea at the same time today.

Tides have a reputation for being unpredictable, but really they follow a timetable more reliable than most trains! There are two different types: spring and neap. Spring tides have greater range between high and low water, so at high tide the water comes in further up the beach. Neaps have less variation, so at high tide the water won't come in as far.

As the tide comes in, simply walking further up the beach and away to safety might not be an option. If you've walked round to another cove at low tide, the water and rocky outcrops can soon block your way back as the tide turns. If the cove you're in doesn't have steps of its own, you could be in trouble.

The UK and Ireland have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world, so before you head out make sure it’s safe. You can find out more information about tides in your local area through tide tables, apps, weather news or local websites.

Don’t get cut off by tides, check them.

Cold water shock

Cold water shock logo

The effect on the body of entering cold water is often underestimated. The shock can be the precursor to drowning.

Anything below 15oC is defined as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement. With average UK and Ireland sea temperatures at just 12oC, and rivers such as the Thames being colder even in the summer, the risk is significant most of the year.

Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow. Heart rate is also increased. As a result the heart has to work harder and blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into the lungs.

This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of sea water to enter the lungs for a fully grown man to start drowning. You could die if you don't get medical care immediately.


Alcohol header

​​You should never go in the water after drinking. Alcohol contributes to around one in eight coastal deaths in the UK and is a contributing factor in many more water related incidents. It can seriously impair your judgement, reactions and ability to swim. If you're going to drink, save it for after you've been swimming.

Lots of accidents relating to drink originate near, rather than in, the water. So if you’re out drinking near the sea or a river, look out for your mates.

James Edward Clark lost his life in the Thames after a fun evening with friends. His family want to share his story to warn others of the dangers of drinking near stretches of water.

'A wonderful life cut short' - read James Edward Clark's story.

James story on a beer glass

Rip currents

Rip currents logo

Rip currents are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches all across the world. In the UK over 60% of RNLI lifeguard incidents involve rip currents.

But what are they and how can you spot one?

Rip currents sound complicated but are essentially fast flowing bodies of water that can drag people and debris away from the shoreline and out to deeper water.

Rip current flow speeds are typically 1-2 mph but they can reach 4.5mph. That’s faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Generally speaking, the bigger the waves the stronger the currents, though don't underestimate the power of the water on any occasion.

Rips can be very difficult to spot, but sometimes can be identified by a channel of churning, choppy water or debris on the sea’s surface. They're most common on sandy surf beaches, and can also form around permanent structures in the sea, like piers or sea walls. So please bear this in mind if you swim close to these.

Watch this video to learn more about rip currents.

The best way to avoid rips is to choose a lifeguarded beach and always swim between the red and yellow flags. Lifeguards are trained to identify rips and mark out a safe swim zone based on the sea conditions. They can also spot you more easily between the flags, should something go wrong. To find out more, see our guide to staying safe at the beach.

If you get caught in a rip:

  • Don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted.
  • If you can stand, wade don’t swim.
  • If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore.
  • Always raise your hand and shout for help.