Man saved from River Dart backs RNLI's float to live campaign in the South West

Lifeboats News Release

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has today announced seven1 people claimed ‘floating’ helped save their life in 2017, after the charity advocated this as a key survival skill last summer.

· Coastal fatality figures2 released today, show 18 people lost their lives at the south west of England coast in 2017 (33 in 2016)

· Over half (61%) did not intend to enter the water

· All of the fatalities were men

As the RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign Respect the Water enters its fifth year, the charity is urging anyone who finds themselves in trouble in cold water to stay calm and ‘float’.

Steve Instance, RNLI Community Safety Partner says: ‘Losing someone to drowning is a shattering experience, so I am very pleased several people said the RNLI’s Respect the Water ‘float’ advice helped them survive in a dangerous situation in the water last year. I’m also encouraged by the 2017 south west coastal fatality figure as it is lower than in previous years. We are hopeful that our safety campaigning and education work has contributed to a reduction in coastal deaths, but we cannot get complacent. It’s vital we all keep sharing lifesaving advice to ensure last year’s reduction becomes part of a long term downward trend in coastal fatalities. One drowning, is one too many.

‘Worryingly, all of the deaths at the south west coast in 2017 were men, with many of them ending up in the water unexpectedly. It clearly highlights much more must be done to help men keep themselves safe around the coast.’

Simon Burton knows first-hand the impact cold water shock can have on you after falling into the water when transferring from his boat to a pontoon in Devon.

‘I very quickly realised that I could not get back into the boat or pull myself onto the pontoon and neither could my wife and son,’ he says.

‘At this point I became scared because there was no one around and I had just learnt about the effects of cold water shock. It took my breath away and I started to shiver uncontrollably. I felt my left arm go numb, then my right, then my legs it was very scary and I started to panic a bit.

‘When I saw the RNLI arrive I have never been more relieved in my life, I knew I was in safe hands. The crew were absolutely brilliant and I will be eternally grateful to them and the two people that rescued me from the water.’

This year the charity is calling on the public to practice the ‘float’ survival skill – a simple skill that could mean the difference between life and death – and to share this lifesaving knowledge with others.

If you get into trouble in cold water, the RNLI’s advice is to float on your back for a short time to regain control of your breathing.

Mike Tipton3 MBE, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, and world leading expert in cold water shock explains:

‘The instinctive human reaction on immersion in cold water is a potential killer as this can cause panic and thrashing around, increasing the chances of breathing in water. This also lets trapped air escape from clothing, reducing buoyancy.

‘Although it’s counter intuitive, the best immediate course of action is to fight your instinct and float on your back. Once you’ve gained control of your breathing you can swim to safety, call for help, or continue to float until help arrives.

‘Floating is not always something people are confident they can do, but most people can float; in fact recent practical trials with the RNLI suggest people find it easier than they expect. The recommended floating position to keep your airway clear is to lean back, extend your arms and legs, and keep movement to a minimum, as air trapped in your clothing will help you float. If needed, gently sculling your hands and feet can help you stay afloat; I’d advise everyone to practice in a controlled environment like a swimming pool.

‘Doing this will give you a much better chance of surviving.’

The RNLI has created a new video* explaining the five steps to floating, to help give people the confidence to be able to float if they find themselves in trouble in cold water.

Evan Chrisp, 16, was one of the seven people who said ‘floating’ helped save his life in 2017. Evan says:

‘I was jumping over waves with friends and got swept out to sea. I tried to fight the water and swim hard, but I quickly realised this wasn’t working and I was in serious danger. I remembered the RNLI’s advice to float on my back and this helped me catch my breath and calm down before then trying to swim to safety.

'Thankfully I made it to a nearby yacht. My Dad had watched me get in to trouble from the shore and had called 999 for the Coastguard. Ultimately I think the RNLI’s advice to float saved my life.’

For those planning to go into the water, the best way to enjoy it safely is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags – the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards.

If you see someone else in danger in the water at the coast, fight your instinct to go in and try to rescue them yourself, instead call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.

The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer with advertising across cinema, outdoor posters, radio, online, and catch-up TV channels. The RNLI is asking people to visit where they will find information on floating. On social media search #RespectTheWater #FloatToLive.

1 RNLI records of people who spoke to the charity and said the 2017 Respect the Water ‘float’ advice help save their life when in a dangerous situation in the water. Some people wish to remain anonymous.

2 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2013–2017. 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).

3 This year, the RNLI along with Professor Mike Tipton and the University of Portsmouth, conducted floating trials with over 80 people, to understand more about how people float to further inform the advice.

Notes to Editors

· On Friday 18 May there will be a media event in Dartmouth, Devon under embargo for Wednesday 23 May. Please let us know if you intend to attend.

· Details of the incident involving Simon Burton can be found here. Images available upon request.

· Opportunity to film, from the shore, Simon on his boat – leaving from Dart Marina.

· *The RNLI video will be made available next week.

· Professor Mike Tipton, and Community Safety Partner Steve Instance are available for interview next week. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below to arrange interviews.

· Photography of Evan and Simon Chrisp can be downloaded from the RNLI News Centre.

· The fatality figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The figures for the south west for 2013–2017 are: 31, 33, 33, 33, 18

· In 2017 in the south west, swimming, jumping in and general leisure use of the water accounted for 28% of the deaths, walking and running 33%; commercial use of the water 6%.

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RNLI/John Fenton

RNLI Dart volunteer crew members Katy Locke and Chris Tracey with Simon Burton

RNLI/John Fenton

RNLI Dart volunteer crew members demonstrate the float technique

RNLI/John Fenton

Simon Burton fell into the cold water of the River Dart unexpectedly

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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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