However you celebrate Christmas this year the RNLI will be ready to save lives
Whether you are planning to mark the festive season with a walk along the coast, a New Year’s Day dip, or are heading out partying, RNLI volunteers will be on call 24/7 and ready to launch if their pagers go off.
Volunteers at three lifeboat stations in the nation’s capital - Tower, Gravesend and Chiswick - will definitely miss out on Christmas dinner with their families, as these stations are permanently crewed to launch on the Thames at a moment’s notice.
Over the last decade RNLI volunteers have saved 35 lives over the festive period, (Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day) launching 1078 times and aiding 488 people. Of those launches 96 took part on Christmas Day, taking crews away from family celebrations to help save others.
With many people marking this time of year with a walk along the coast, a bracing swim, or a party near the coast or a river, the RNLI’s message is to enjoy the celebrations, but stay safe. Statistics for the last 10 years show that during the festive period the most common cause for lifeboats launching was to people in the water or people caught out on a shoreline or beach.
For example, on Christmas morning 2012, both Hastings lifeboats were launched in horrendous conditions following a report of numerous people in the water at St Leonards. The crews battled 45 knot winds to reach the scene, but tragically one person, found on the water’s edge, died.
Guy Addington, Community Safety Partner for London, the South East and the Channel Islands said there is some key advice people can take to help stay safe:
‘With people heading to the coast for a stroll we ask you to take care. Around 190 people lose their lives at the UK and Irish Coast each year and over half never even planned to enter the water. As well as slips trips and falls, tidal cut offs are also a contributing factor to RNLI call outs. Please take a look at the tide times and always have a means of calling for help. Remember, if you need help or someone else is in difficulty, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’
With many people walking their dogs over Christmas the message is clear: don’t get yourself into danger while trying to rescue a family pet from the water. If your dog does get into difficulty in the water or gets stuck in mud do not go in to try and rescue it. In many cases dogs will get out themselves.
In 2017 RNLI lifeboats launched 91 times to dog walking incidents, with 97 incidents attended by lifeguards. The advice is to keep dogs on a lead if walking close to cliff edges or fast flowing rivers, and if your pet is in difficulty call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
Walking by the coast, or along rivers is also a very popular activity at Christmas and is usually very safe, but slips and falls from walking and running are the biggest cause of death on our coast.
If you are planning a walk, be wary of all edges around the sea and waterside. Slips and falls happen in all locations, not just high cliff edges. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back and take a means of calling for help. Getting cut off by the tide is a common cause of lifeboat launches so always check the weather and tide timetables before you go.
With festive swims becoming increasingly popular the RNLI is urging people to stay safe before they dive in. There are at least eight swims organised in the south east (see below) and for thousands of people a festive dip in the sea is a Christmas tradition.
‘As the charity that saves lives at sea, we want to remind people that over winter the sea is at its coldest!’ said Guy Addington. ‘We encourage those who plan on taking part to join a scheduled event, as they will be in good company with other swimmers, as well as safety staff.’
‘We hope people enjoy the water but are also aware of what do to if they or their fellow swimmers do get into trouble. Before going in, we urge people to remember the risks of cold water shock and what to do if it happens to them. The simple act of floating could save a life.’
Tips for cold water swimming:
If you run straight into cold water, you are more likely to suffer from cold water shock. The best way to avoid this is to wear a wetsuit. If this isn’t possible, walk into the sea slowly and stay shallow. This will allow your body time to acclimatise gradually.
Cold water shock is a physiological response, which causes uncontrollable gasping. This increases the risk of you swallowing water and puts a strain on your heart - in extreme cases it can cause cardiac arrest. If you feel you this happening to you, fight your instinct to thrash around and swim hard, instead just lie back and float. The initial shock will pass within 60–90 seconds, and when you have regained control of your breathing, you can then try swimming to safety or calling for help. This skill will give you a far better chance of staying alive.
If you see someone else in trouble in the water, fight the instinct to go in yourself. Call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.
Details of some of the festive dips taking place in the South East and Channel Islands are:
Southend on Sea: Southend RNLI Boxing Day Dip, Jubilee Beach, Marine Parade. Arrive 11.45am, dip from 12.30pm. Prize for the best fancy dress.
Poole: Beyond the Blue Christmas Eve Swim, Shore Road, Poole, 10.30am.
Deal: Boxing Day Dip, north side of Deal Pier, 11am. Fancy dress optional.
Charlton Lido: Boxing Day Dip. Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road, London. 9am – 11am.
Tooting Bec Lido: Tooting Bec Road, London. Annual Crisis Midwinter Swim Series to raise money for homelessness.
Buck Shore – Swanage: Annual Boxing Day Dip, Shore Road. Fancy dress optional. Check local media for times.
Boscombe Pier: Bournemouth: Christmas Day Swim in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support. 10.30am.
Gosport: Stokes Bay Bayside. New Year’s Day Swim. Noon.
Jersey: Christmas Day Swim. Old Smugglers Inn, Ousaine. 10.20am. For Jersey Hospice care and JSPCA Animal Shelter.
Photo caption: Christmas can be a great time for celebration as this photo of Santa aboard a lifeboat at Ramsgate demonstrates, but the RNLI is urging people to put safety first during the festivities. Credit RNLI/Brian Whitehead.
RNLI media contacts:
Paul Dunt, RNLI Media Officer, London on 07785 296252 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Riley, RNLI National Media Officer on 01202 336789, email@example.com
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.