I floated to live

We often share with you stories of courageous rescues by our lifesavers, but this last year we’ve been hearing from you too. Thanks to our Respect the Water campaign, there has been a different kind of rescue happening around our coasts: self rescue.

Evan Chrisp, who survived thanks to RNLI advice

RNLI/Nathan Williams

The 2017 Respect the Water campaign advised people to Float to Live. If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, don’t panic. Float. Get your breathing under control before trying to swim or shout for help.

So far, seven people have come forward to share their stories of how they’ve remembered and made use of the Float to Live advice in a moment of danger. Here we share three of them.

Evan, swimmer

Evan Chrisp, who survived after following RNLI advice, and his father Simon

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Evan Chrisp from Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, is like many teenage boys: working towards school exams, spending his time hanging out with friends.

Evan loves the beach, but last year he found himself in serious trouble during a holiday in Northumberland.

‘We decided to go to Beadnell Bay to swim in the sea,’ Evan recalls.

‘The sea was choppy but we proceeded to jump over the waves at waist height. Two waves came over and we were washed back so that we couldn’t touch the floor. We were well out of our depth. 

‘It happened so quickly.’

Evan and two of his friends found themselves caught in a rip current that was quickly dragging them away from the shore. With every effort they made to get back to the beach, the current pulled them out further.

The other two made it back to shore, but Evan was so far out that he’d lost sight of the beach.

‘I remembered seeing one of the RNLI’s videos as an advert on YouTube. I lay on my back and allowed myself to get my breath back, as I needed to conserve my energy and not fight the water.

‘I managed to swim sideways to the current, and slowly made my way to a moored yacht. But I’d been in the water for over 45 minutes, and my whole body had cramped up so I was just clinging on. 

‘A surfer from Beadnell came to where I was, and helped to lift me onto the boat.’

On the beach, Evan’s dad had alerted the Coastguard and help was on its way. An exhausted and hypothermic Evan was finally rescued by Seahouses lifeboat crew after 50 minutes in the water.

He says: ‘I have to thank the RNLI. Your simple rules about the sea not only saved my life but also my friends’, as they didn’t come into the water when I was stranded at sea.’

Andrew, windsurfer

Windsurfer Andrew Gilbert, who survived thanks to RNLI advice

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Last December, Storm Caroline hit – bringing gusts of up to 93mph at its peak in Shetland.

But while most of us were tucked up inside (and some of our crews braved the seas), Caroline was a siren call to watersports enthusiasts.

Andrew Gilbert, from Hove in Sussex, had the fright of his life when he found out just how powerful the sea can be.

‘The wind was really starting to pick up, so I decided to do two more runs and come back to the beach,’ he recalls.

‘On the last run back to the beach, I gybed forcefully and the kit was ripped out of my hands. When I saw the kit heading towards the beach, leaving me around 500m out, I thought: “That’s it. I’m not getting back.” The emotion kicked in, my heart rate started to increase and I started to panic. I thought: “This is it. This is the day I’m going to die.” But I was determined not to give up. And then I remembered watching the RNLI’s Respect the Water videos on Facebook.

‘If I could float, that would calm my breathing down enough to get back to the beach. Conditions out there were very rough – I was being bashed from every angle. Because I was hyperventilating I was swallowing water, coughing, choking, and I really had to get into the mindset that I was going to get back to beach, and by listening to the advice I’d heard online I’d give it my best go.

‘After I got my breathing under control, it was a matter of looking out for the waves, making sure my mouth was closed when the waves came, and trying to use them to paddle and swim in a bit. In between the waves, I was floating.

‘It was all about survival, and not letting my family down – my wife, my two children, all my friends. I didn’t want to die that way.’

Enda, kayaker

Kayaker Enda Lonergan, who survived after following RNLI advice

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Enda Lonergan was kayaking off the coast of Co Mayo when he found himself in trouble.

‘It was a beautiful day, weatherwise, in the month of June in the west of Ireland. Just perfect,’ he says. ‘And everything was going hunky dory until I didn’t pay attention to a wake that was coming. Before I knew it, I was in the water.

‘I was 10 feet, 20 feet, then 30 feet away from the kayak. My flotation device was now around my face because it wasn’t the right size for me. 

‘I thought I was going to drown, because I couldn’t swim.

‘After some splashing around, and swallowing a lot of seawater, I got this flash of inspiration where I remembered seeing the RNLI Respect the Water YouTube clip that said: “Relax, put your arms out, and you’ll float.” I’m so thankful I remembered it.

‘At 7pm that day, having dinner with my family, that’s when the shock hit me and I started to cry at the table.

‘I realised I might very well not have been sitting there with them.’

Respect the Water

A man floating in water

RNLI Operations Director George Rawlinson says: ‘The tragedy of drowning and accidental coastal fatalities remains with us each year.

‘And the reality is: so many accidents are preventable.’

All who volunteer and work for the RNLI believe that life is precious. Every year, we maintain a memorial wall at RNLI Headquarters in tribute to the people who’ve lost their lives around our coasts: sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons.

As the year progresses, the number of faces and names increases and every tragedy weighs heavily.

This is why we’re working to reduce drowning by breaking every link in the drowning chain. Our Respect the Water campaign – alongside education and prevention work with watersports communities, beachgoers, children and young adults – is vital to this.

In the last year, we’ve been working with the University of Portsmouth to research how different body types and clothing impact on a person’s ability to float. And this summer, we are building on the float message to reach more people with vital advice on how to float.

When we talk about how supporter donations help to save lives at sea, the contribution goes beyond funding our search and rescue volunteers. When you support the RNLI, you are a part of this effort and we can’t thank you enough.

Fight your instinct, not the water

How to float:

1. First: keep calm and try not to panic. Your instinct will be to swim hard – don’t.

2. Lean back to keep your mouth and nose out of the water and your airway clear.

3. Push your belly up and stretch out your arms and legs into a star shape.

4. Gently move your hands and feet in a sculling motion to help you float.

5. Do this for 60–90 seconds or until you can control your breathing.

6. If you can, swim to safety. If someone is nearby, raise a hand and call for help.

Pass it on

Evan, Andrew and Enda believe they're here today because they heard about the importance of floating through social media. Share their stories with your mates and you might help save a life.