RNLI warns beach-goers about cold water shock

Lifeboats News Release

As the UK finally enjoys some spring sunshine, the RNLI in Wales is urging people visiting the coast over the next few days to respect the water and remember that sea temperatures can still be dangerously cold.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

With temperatures soaring over the past couple of days, many people will be heading to the coast for the first time this year, where clear skies and bright sunshine can give the illusion that the water is warm.

However sea temperatures remain in single figures and once in the water people could suffer from cold water shock, which is the body’s short term involuntary response to being immersed in cold water and is a leading cause of death around our coast.

The RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea, is also warning those visiting the coast that weather conditions can change quickly and still be challenging and is urging people to check the forecasts and tide conditions before making their journey.

‘If you are feeling brave enough for a swim we’d recommend wearing a wetsuit at this time of year to stay warmer,’ said Guy Addington, RNLI Community Safety Partner. He advises anyone who enters the water and experiences cold water shock to follow one of the key messages of the RNLI’s annual Respect the Water campaign and ‘Float to Live.’

‘If you’re not an experienced year-round swimmer and enter very cold water, our safety advice about floating might save your life,’ said Guy. ‘Fight your instinct to panic and try to float or rest, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60–90 seconds. Floating for this short time will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase.’

‘Keeping calm will help maintain buoyancy. Some people find it helpful to scull gently with their hands and kick their feet to keep afloat. Do as little as possible until you have control of your breathing. At this point you have a much better chance of avoiding drowning and surviving until you can swim to safety, call for help, or continuing to float until help arrives.’

RNLI figures show that around half of those who die at the coast each year never even expected to end up in the water and find themselves in difficulty often as a result of slips, trips or falls. To prevent this happening, it is important for people to plan their activity, but also think about what they would do in an emergency if something unexpected happens.

‘Always carry a means of calling for help should something go wrong; know your capabilities and make sure you wear the necessary safety equipment,’ said Guy, adding that if you see someone in trouble alert any lifeguards on the beach and call 999 (or 112) and ask for the Coastguard. Do not enter the water yourself.

To find out how you can stay safe while enjoying your water activity, visit https://www.respectthewater.com/

Notes to editors

How can you minimise the risk? If you enter the water unexpectedly:

  • Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.

  • Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.

  • Keep calm, then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.

If you’re planning on enjoying the water:

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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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.