Man ‘five seconds away from drowning’ rescued by RNLI London lifeboat crew

Lifeboats News Release

On the day the RNLI launches its national drowning prevention campaign, ‘Respect the Water’, one of the charity’s London lifeboat crews rescued a man who was seconds away from drowning in the River Thames.

The rescue of the man, who was in the water near to Blackfriars Road Bridge, happened at 5.11am (Thursday 25 May), after the UK Coastguard in London requested the urgent assistance of Tower RNLI lifeboat crew.

And, after pulling him from the river to safety, lifeboat crews have classed the rescue as a “life saved”*, saying he was just ‘five seconds away from drowning’.

The dramatic rescue coincides with today’s launch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s ‘Respect the Water’ campaign, a national drowning prevention initiative aimed at preventing people getting into distress on or near water.

Fatality figures released today show 42 people have accidentally lost their lives along the tidal reaches of the River Thames over the past five years, and 40% of these didn’t even intend to enter the water.

This morning’s incident unfolded after the crew of a Thames Clipper passenger vessel saw a man in distress the water near Blackfriars Road Bridge. The lifeboat crew launched immediately at the request of the UK Coastguard and ascertained the casualty had already floated with the fast-moving tide through one of the arches of the nearby Blackfriars rail bridge.

Craig Burn, helm of Tower RNLI lifeboat crew, said: ‘We reached the scene and located him in the water with just the top of his head visible. But as we approached his head went under and all we could see was an arm and hand as he was struggling to stay afloat. We were reaching out for him and his head came up again, and my crew grabbed his flailing arm and pulled him aboard the lifeboat.’

The man, a 36-year-old, was wearing dark clothes and had dark hair. This, coupled with the limited light at that early hour, had reduced visibility. He was treated on board the lifeboat for cold and water inhalation and was taken back to the lifeboat station to be handed into the care of London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Polices Marine Police Unit.

Craig continued: ‘Based on how we found him, he was probably five seconds away from drowning. Given his temperature and the water he had ingested, if we hadn’t got him there and then, he’d have gone under. This just show how important, how absolutely vital the advice of our Respect the Water campaign is. Water can be very dangerous and needs to be treated with respect.’

This is the fourth year the RNLI charity has run its ‘Respect the Water’ campaign. One of the key messages the charity is promoting to the public is how to deal with the potentially fatal effects of cold water shock.

If someone finds themselves unexpectedly in the water, the RNLI recommends they fight their instincts and remember one core survival action of floating until the effects of cold water shock pass and they can catch their breath, before then trying to swim to safety or calling for help.

With nearly three-quarters (74%) of Londoners saying they visit the coast at least once a year, the RNLI is urging all Londoners to remember this advice – whether they’re along the River Thames or by the sea.

Guy Addington, RNLI Community Safety Partner for London, said: ‘Through our ‘Respect the Water’ campaign we want to start a national conversation about water safety. We’re asking the public to remember this lifesaving advice, share with others and practice the survival skill of floating – it could be the difference between life and death.’

‘For those who are planning to go into the water, the best way to stay safe is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, which is the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards. And if you see someone else in danger in the water, fight your instinct to go in and try to rescue them yourself – instead call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’

The campaign is targeted at adult men, who account for a staggering 79% of the fatalities over the past five years in the tidal reaches of the River Thames (57% last year), although the advice is relevant to anyone who goes near the water.

The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and on catch-up TV channels. The RNLI is asking people to visit where they will find information on the effects of cold water shock and floating techniques. On social media search #RespectTheWater.

* “Life saved” is a specific RNLI criteria which is decided after careful analysis of a range of criteria. A rescue is categorised as a life saved where, if it weren’t for the intervention of the RNLI, a person would most likely have died.


RNLI media contacts

  • Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 [email protected]

  • Paul Dunt, RNLI Press Officer (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207416, 07786 668825, [email protected]

  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

The man's hand is all that can be seen as the RNLI lifeboat approaches


The man's hand is all that can be seen as the RNLI lifeboat approaches
The crew of the Tower RNLI lifeboat close in on the drowning man


The crew of the Tower RNLI lifeboat close in on the drowning man

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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.