Rescued Welsh kayaker backs RNLI campaign to highlight how floating saves lives

Lifeboats News Release

The RNLI has today announced coastal fatality figures which show eight people lost their lives at the coast of Wales in 2017 (12 in 2016).

Robert Critcher and Ellis with RNLI volunteers (L-R) James king, Jim Mayer, Owain Davies and Matt Church after he was rescued.

Penarth RNLI

Robert Critcher and Ellis with RNLI volunteers (L-R) James king, Jim Mayer, Owain Davies and Matt Church after he was rescued.

Of these figures:

  • Over half (62.5%) not intend to enter the water

  • All fatalities were men

  • Seven1 people claimed ‘floating’ helped save their life in 2017, after the RNLI advocated this as a key survival skill last summer.

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’.

Cardiff dad Robert Critcher knows only too well how panic can set in when he found himself in a potentially life-threatening situation, when his kayak overturned in icy water and thick fog off Penarth.

Robert says:

‘At first I was able to hold my chest and arms out of the water, but my drysuit began to fill with sea water gradually dragging me down. After more than 20 minutes in the sea I was exhausted, and by now only my chin was resting on the kayak. My mate was holding me out of the water by the scruff of my neck, but I knew that soon I'd be dragging him into the water as well, and I really thought that was it.

‘I was on the verge of giving up and telling my mate to let me go. All I could think of was my 18 month old son Ellis and how long we’d waited so long for a child and now he may grow up without a dad. I had no idea what the best thing to do was, panic sets in. Your natural instinct it to fight rather than float, but it makes so much sense to save your energy lie back and float. I’d urge people to listen to the RNLI’s advice and float.’

Penarth RNLI lifeboat launched in challenging conditions, in darkness and thick fog with visibility less than 50 metres.They were able to locate Robert thanks to him being able to call for help by using a waterproof floating radio, which he had only recently bought. This was the second time it had been used. He said it undoubtedly saved his life.

Penarth RNLI volunteer Matt Church who was onboard the lifeboat during the rescue confirmed the fact that both kayaker were well prepared with drysuits, buoyancy aids, and the all-important radio saved their lives that evening.

Matt says:

‘Every now and again you get a shout that sticks with you, this certainly was one of them. Particularly given the weather conditions, the level of danger the pair were in and the date being so close to Christmas. This along with meeting Robert and his family the following day whilst my wife, young child and I were on our way home for Christmas with our families really brought home how much of an impact this could have had on all concerned. I’m just so glad we were there and able to help.’

Chris Cousens, RNLI Community Safety Partner for Wales 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 for Wales, 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 worrying statistic is that male deaths accounted for all the fatalities at the coast of Wales in 2017, with many of them ending up in the water unexpectedly. This is exactly what happened to Robert, he is an experienced kayaker who never for one moment thought he’d end up so close to losing his life when he set off that day. 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.

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 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.

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 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.


Media Opportunity: Meet rescued kayaker Robert Critcher, from Cardiff who is backing the RNLI’s drowning prevention campaign, as charity releases coastal fatality figures. There will be an opportunity to interview Robert, RNLI Community Safety Partner Chris Cousens and the Penarth crew who saved Robert’s life.

Where: Penarth RNLI Lifeboat Station, The Esplanade Penarth Vale of Glamorgan CF64 3AU.

When: Wednesday 23 May at 3pm.

Notes to Editors

  • Professor Mike Tipton, Robert Critcher and Chris Cousens are available for interview. Please contact RNLI Media Reltions Manager Danielle Rush to arrange.

  • The fatality figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The figures for Wales for 2013–2017 are: 19, 16, 19, 16, 8

  • In 2017 in Wales, walking and running accounted for 62.5% of deaths, sailing and boating 25% and unknown activity 12.5%

Media contacts

For more information, contact Danielle Rush, Regional Media Manager for Wales on 01745 585162 or 07786 668829. Or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 /


Robert Critcher who almost lost his life when his kayak overturned off Penarth. Pictured with him is his 18 month old son Ellis. Robert said a special thank you today to Jim Mayer, one of the volunteer crew from Penarth who came to his rescue.

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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