RNLI warns 'Respect the Water' during ‘deadliest’ time of year in south east

Lifeboats News Release

More people die at the south east coast during the busy summer months of June, July and August than at any other time throughout the year(*) according to figures released today by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

With the summer holidays well underway, research from the lifesaving charity shows less than a quarter (22%) of people in the region say they would call 999 immediately to request help if they saw someone fall into open water2.

The number of non-fatal incidents is also highest during the summer, with the charity’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the region responding to most emergencies during this time3. The charity is reminding people to dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard in the event of an emergency at the coast.

Over the past five years, there have been 65 deaths at the south east coast during the summer months of June, July and August – more than at any other time of the year4.

This is also the busiest time of year for the RNLI’s lifesavers overall. Last summer, the charity’s lifeboat crews in the south east launched their lifeboats in response to 625 emergencies, nearly half (48%) of their total call-outs for the year. Meanwhile, RNLI lifeguards in the region responded to 1,252 incidents on beaches during June, July and August.

As part of the RNLI’s drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, the charity is calling on the public to help save more lives by remembering and sharing key survival skills. First:

If you see someone else in danger in the water, fight your instincts to go in after them and instead call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

Research commissioned by the RNLI has revealed that less than a quarter (22%) of people in the south east say they would call 999 immediately to request help if they saw someone fall into open water5.

While summer air temperatures may be warm, UK and Irish waters rarely exceed 15C, making them cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock, which causes the instinctive reaction to gasp and swim hard, which can quickly lead to drowning. With around half the coastal deaths each year being people who accidentally slip or fall into the water, the RNLI’s second piece of advice is:

If you fall into cold water, fight your instincts to swim hard and thrash about. Instead, float for 60–90 seconds until the effects of cold water shock pass and you can catch your breath before then swimming to safety or calling for help.

Guy Addington, RNLI Community Safety Partner for the South East, said:

‘With summer holidays upon us and hopefully some hot weather, our fantastic beaches are naturally a draw for many people – but sadly this also means more people tragically losing their lives or getting into serious danger at the coast.

‘We need to start a national conversation that encourages people to fight their instincts around water, so we are asking people to remember and share two skills.The first is, if you see someone else in trouble, don’t go into the water yourself as you may also end up in serious danger. Instead, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. The second is, if you fall into cold water, fight your instincts to swim hard or thrash about as this could lead to drowning. Instead, relax and float on your back, keeping your airway clear, for around 60–90 seconds. This will allow the effects of cold water shock to pass so you can regain control of your breathing and then swim to safety or call for help. Just remembering these two simple points could help save your life, or someone else’s, this summer.’

Anyone planning a trip to the beach is advised by the RNLI to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, which is the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards.

The RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, is part of the charity’s work to halve coastal drownings by 2024. The theme of the campaign is: ‘Fight your instincts, not the water.’ It reminds people of the risks but, most importantly, provides them with the skills to survive for longer if they unexpectedly find themselves in water, and the knowledge of what to do should they see someone else in danger. The RNLI is asking people to visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater where they will find safety advice. On social media search #RespectTheWater.

1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2012–2016. 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 Basis research conducted on behalf of the RNLI (nationally representative sample across the UK, n=1,010). Figures shown are respondents asked in the south east, n=131.

3 RNLI incident data.

4 Five-year (2012–2016) south east coastal death figures by month are: Jan 8 deaths; Feb 5 deaths; Mar 8 deaths; Apr 11 deaths; May 9 deaths; Jun 19 deaths; Jul 27 deaths; Aug 19 deaths; Sep 7 deaths; Oct 11 deaths; Nov 13 deaths; Dec 8 deaths.

5 Respondents asked (unprompted): Think about what you would do if you saw somebody who had fallen into open water. What actions, if any, would you take to help somebody in this situation? Please tell us in as much detail as you can in the box provided, starting with the very first thing you would do.

Notes to Editors

  • RNLI spokespeople are available for interview. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below to arrange interviews.

RNLI media contacts

  • Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 tim_ash@rnli.org.uk
  • Paul Dunt, RNLI Press Officer (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207416, 07786 668825, paul_dunt@rnli.org.uk
  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

Key facts about the RNLI

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

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