North West of England Coastal deaths 2017: RNLI says ‘floating’ saves lives

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 109 people lost their lives at the UK coast in 2017 (156 in 2016)


Of these figures, six people lost their lives off the north west coast of England in 2017 (four in 2016). The RNLI can reveal:


  • All six did not intend to enter the water

  • Four of the six 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’.

Chris Cousens, RNLI Community Safety Partner for the West 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 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.

‘A particularly worrying statistic is that male deaths make up 67% of the fatalities in the north west, 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.’

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.

Evan Chrisp, 16, was one of the seven people who said ‘floating’ helped save their 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.’

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 (embargoed until 23 May) explaining the key steps to floating, to help give people the confidence to be able to float if they find themselves in trouble in cold water.

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. And 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 RNLI.org/RespectTheWater 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 helped 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

  • Please contact Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Relations Manager in Wales and the West on 07786 668829 for interview requests.

  • Photography of Evan and Simon Chrisp, and video footage can be downloaded from the RNLI News Centre on Wednesday 23 May, or requested in advance.

  • The fatality figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The figures for the north West (Wirral, Lancashire, Cumbria for 2013–2017 are: 9,8,6,4,6.

Media contacts

For more information, contact Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Relations Manager in Wales and the West on 07786 668829 or Lucy Parker, RNLI Public Relations Manager, on 01202 336508 / Lucy_Parker@RNLI.org.uk or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 / pressoffice@rnli.org.uk

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 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

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