Mum of Newcastle girl who was swept out to sea urges others to respect the water

Lifeboats News Release

The mum of Newcastle teenager Caitlin Ruddy, who died after being swept out to sea by a freak wave in January, is backing the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign to halve accidental coastal deaths.

As the charity releases coastal fatality figures1 today (Thursday 9 June) which show 22 people lost their lives around the north of England’s coast last year, Caitlin’s mum Sabrina Cook is urging people to take more care and heed safety warnings when they are near the sea.

Caitlin, aged 15, was walking on Cullercoats Pier with three friends on 16 January when a freak wave swept her into the sea. She died later in hospital despite attempts to save her by Cullercoats RNLI crew and a member of the public.

Sabrina says: ‘Caitlin’s death has devastated us and nothing can ever bring her back but I am hoping that other people might learn something from what happened to her. None of us realised just how powerful and deadly the sea can be, but it took Caitlin from us. I hope people listen to the RNLI’s message and treat water with respect.’

As well as 22 deaths, a further 62 people were involved in near-fatal incidents in the region last year but were fortunately rescued by the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards2.

The figures are released as the charity enters the third year of its national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, which aims to halve accidental coastal deaths by 2024. The RNLI is renewing its warning to people about the dangers of cold water, slips and falls, rip currents and waves.

Almost half (48%) the 122 people who died at the coast between 2011 and 2014 never planned to enter the water but were taking part in activities such as coastal walking and running.

Over the same period, general leisure use of the water, including swimming and jumping in, accounted for over one-quarter (27%) of the coastal fatalities – a figure that rose to 36% last year.

The campaign aims to target adult men in particular as the five-year figures show 75% of the 122 people who died at the region’s coast between 2011 and 2014, were men3 . Last year, 68% were men.

Helen Williams, RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for the north of England, says:

‘Caitlin’s death was a tragic accident but, as these figures show, many other people are needlessly dying each year at the coast. RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards save hundreds of lives but, sadly, not everyone can be saved. We lose an average of 24 lives around the north of England’s coast each year and the real tragedy of the situation is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.

‘Cold water is a real killer. People often don’t realise how cold our seas can be – even in summer months the sea temperature rarely exceeds 12oc, which is low enough to trigger cold water shock. If you enter the water suddenly at that temperature, you’ll start gasping uncontrollably, which can draw water into your lungs and cause drowning. The coldness also numbs you, leaving you helpless – unable to swim or shout for help.

‘The fact that so many of the people who die at the coast each year never planned to enter the water suggests people are also not taking enough care along the coastline itself. We’re warning people to stay away from cliff edges, particularly where there is slippery, unstable or uneven ground; stick to marked paths and keep an eye on the water – watch out for unexpected waves which can catch you out and sweep you into the water.

‘If you’re planning to get into the water be aware that, even if it looks calm on the surface, there can be strong rip currents beneath the surface, which can quickly drag you out to sea. The sea is powerful and can catch out even the strongest and most experienced swimmers.’

UK-wide, the number of lives lost at the coast reached a five-year high last year, with 168 lives lost. The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and, for the first time, on catch-up TV channels.

The charity is asking people to visit where they will find information on how to stay safe.

1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. RNLI has analysed the data using GIS software to plot and analyse incidents before inclusion in a specific coastal dataset (accident and natural causes only).
2 RNLI lifeboat incident data 2015 (exc call-outs to self-harm incidents) and RNLI lifeguard incident data 2015. 
3 All males except for those known to be under 18. Includes those where age was not recorded.

Notes to Editors
• Provisional coastal fatality data taken from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. The figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The fatality figures for the north of England for 2011–2015 are 22, 18, 29, 31 and 22.

Downloadable RNLI video here: shows Cullercoats RNLI volunteers searching for Caitlin on 16 January.

RNLI Photo caption

1. Sabrina Cook is supporting the RNLI's Respect the Water campaign. Credit: Adrian Don/RNLI.

2. Sabrina Cook and Ashley Cook at Cullercoats. Credit: Adrian Don/RNLI.

3. RNLI crew member Curtis Dunn and Sabrina Cook. Credit: Adrian Don/RNLI.

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For more information please contact Clare Hopps, RNLI Press Officer north, on 07824 518641 /

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