RNLI’s ‘Float to Live’ advice saves man’s life on the Thames

Lifeboats News Release

A man in his twenties moments from drowning in the River Thames has told RNLI crew how he managed to stay above the water by adopting the charity’s ‘Float to Live’ advice.

A man who went swimming is held above the water by officers from the Metropolitan Police


A man who went swimming is held above the water by officers from the Metropolitan Police

The man, who had been at a local pub in Wapping had decided to go for a swim in the river, but quickly found himself overcome by the strong currents and suffering from cold water shock.

With his muscles cramping and on the verge of drowning, he recalled seeing an RNLI poster urging people who find themselves in difficulty in the water to float on their backs until they are able to regain control of their breathing.

On receiving a call from the UK Coastguard to a person in distress in the water close to Tower Bridge, the crew of Tower RNLI Lifeboat Hurley Burly arrived on scene within three minutes to find officers on board a Metropolitan Police marine boat, holding onto the man, but unable to recover him on board.

Going alongside, the RNLI crew were able to transfer the casualty onto the lifeboat and take him to the police pier at Wapping where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service and was taken to hospital.

RNLI helm Steve Doherty explained that when the man had been found in the river by the Metropolitan Police Marine Unit he had been lying on his back in the water in the classic ‘star shape’ recommended by the RNLI’s ‘Float to Live’ campaign.

‘He was freezing when we brought him onto the lifeboat and he had inhaled a lot of water,’ Steve said, explaining that the man, who was only wearing boxer shorts, had decided to go for a swim, but had not realised how strong the incoming tide was.

‘Once in the water he realised it was a bad idea but couldn’t get back to the shore and started to panic. He said that he thought he was going to drown and then he remembered the RNLI Float to Live advice and so lay on his back with his arms and legs extended until help arrived. On further questioning, in his own words he said ‘I just floated on my back and that’s the only reason I am alive’,’ explained Steve.

The crew of the lifeboat received the initial call from the UK Coastguard to a person in distress in the water at 5.07pm on Tuesday 9 July. The lifeboat, was returning from a previous shout when the call came in and immediately diverted to the scene.

The ‘Float to Live’ advice is a key message in the RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water. It urges people to follow this potentially lifesaving advice if they find themselves in trouble after falling into cold water:

  • Fight your instinct to swim hard or thrash about – this can lead to breathing in water and drowning

  • Instead, relax and FLOAT on your back, until you have regained control of your breathing

Guy Addington, RNLI Community Safety Partner for the South East and London said: ‘This rescue demonstrates just how effective the Float technique can be in saving lives, even in the treacherous waters of the River Thames’.

‘No one should have to lose someone they love to drowning. Many of the tragic deaths recorded at the coast and on the Thames could be avoided if people understand the risks and prepare themselves by practising this method and we would urge people to share this message as widely as possible’.

‘Knowing what to do if you fall into cold water can be the difference between life and death. The instinctive human reaction when you fall into cold water can cause panic and gasping for breath, increasing the chances of breathing in water. Although it’s counter-intuitive, the best immediate course of action is to fight your instinct and float on your back.’

The following day, Wednesday 10 July, the Tower Lifeboat crew were tasked by UK Coastguard at 4.30pm to reports of a man in the water at Chelsea. When the crew arrived on scene they found a man struggling to stay above the water. The man who was cold and shocked, was brough aboard the lifeboat by the crew and taken to a nearby pier where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service.

Note to Editors:

The RNLI crew who attended this incident were staff helms Craig Burn and Steve Doherty and volunteer crew members Winni Jarvis and Helen Church.

More details about the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign are available via the following link: www.respectthewater.com

Five steps to float:

1. If you fall into water, fight your instinct to thrash around

2. Lean back, extend your arms and legs

3. If you need to, gently move them around to help you float

4. Float until you can control your breathing

5. Only then, call for help or swim to safety


Photo One: Float to Live – a man who went swimming in the Thames and adopted the RNLI’s Float to Live advice to survive is held above the water by the Metropolitan Police Marine Unit.

Photo Two: An RNLI poster highlighting the floating technique

Photo Three: The rescue of a man at Chelsea on Wednesday 11 July

Media Contacts:

Paul Dunt, RNLI Regional Media Officer, London and South East (07785) 296252 paul_dunt@rnli.org.uk

The RNLI's Float to Live Poster


The RNLI's Float to Live poster
The rescue of a man at Chelsea on 11 July


The rescue of a man at Chelsea on 11 July

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 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 by email.