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2018 saw increase in Welsh coastal deaths – and 94% were men

Lifeboats News Release

Annual coastal fatality figures released today by the RNLI lifesaving charity reveal that 18 people lost their lives off the Welsh coast in 2018. The figures have risen considerably compared with 2017 when eight people lost their lives – all of which were men.

Darren Harries

The 2018 figure is in line with the historical trend across Wales, with an average of 15 people losing their lives off the coast each year between 2014 – 2018. Figures show a significant fall in fatalities in 2017, which makes the 2018 increase more notable.

The increase could be attributed to a long hot summer with people flocking to enjoy the Welsh coastline.

Of the 18 deaths, 39 % were between the ages of 36-50 and 28% were 19-35-year olds, The figures clearly show there is work to be done to help keep men safe at the coast.

As the RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign Respect the Water launches for 2019, the RNLI is urging the public to take action and follow this potentially lifesaving advice if they find themselves in trouble in 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

Chris Cousens, RNLI Community Safety Partner for Wales says: ‘No one should have to lose someone they love to drowning. Many of the tragic deaths at the coast can be avoided if people understand the risks and prepare themselves by practising the Float technique.

‘We’ve been contacted by people who say they recalled the Float safety message while in serious trouble in the water, and that following the RNLI’s advice helped save their life. But we can’t get complacent, we all have a role in getting behind coastal safety education, investing in initiatives and sharing survival skills to help save lives from drowning.’

On 19 August, 2018 the Rees family were enjoying an afternoon walk at Blue Pool, Gower, when the family’s youngest child Jude, (then nine) began padding in the near the rocks. Jude caught by a strong undercurrent which pulled him a short distance from the shore. Even though he is a confident swimmer, the current was so strong he could not swim the short distance back. A teenage boy, who was close by in the water at the time saw Jude struggling and tried to help, but the current and a sudden swell separated them. Jude’s mum tried desperately to enter the water, but was washed against the rocks. One of Jude’s older brothers and several other visitors on the beach immediately rang the Coastguard.

Ceri Saunders, the teenager’s mum and an experienced sea swimmer, dived in and managed to reach Jude. Realising that they were not able to make it back to shore Ceri told Jude to stay calm and to float on his back. Jude remembered the RNLI had said the same thing when they gave a talk at his school. Jude’s dad Paul tried to enter the water to help them, but the waves kept washing him on to the rocks.

Paul said:

‘Jude was literally paddling in the water; the strength of the current was unbelievable. All we could do was watch, watch and pray. I firmly believe someone was looking down on us that day. We realised there was no time to spare and I’m so glad we called 999 and asked for the Coastguard when we did. We hope people heed the RNLI’s advice as I’ve no doubt that the advice helped to save him that day.’

After some time Ceri and Jude were separated by the strength of the current and waves. Although they were both being swept out to sea they managed to stay calm and to float on their backs until the Burry Port RNLI lifeboat arrived. Jude’s parents kept signalling to him to float on his back.

Paul added:

‘When the lifeboat reached Jude the current had already swept him over 300 metres from where he had been paddling some twenty-five minutes earlier. Remarkably, having conserved energy by floating for most of the time Jude still had some strength left when he was lifted out of the water. Thankfully, all involved in this incident are safe and have recovered well.’

Chris continues: ‘A worrying trend shows men make up most of the fatalities at the coast every year; last year 17 males lost their lives off the Welsh coast. Figures show 39% hadn’t planned on entering the water, with slips, trips and falls catching them unaware while out running or walking. 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.’

For more advice on how to float visit RespectTheWater.com. On social media search #FloatToLive #RespectTheWater #ArnofiwchiFyw

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.

1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID). 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).

Notes to Editors

  • The increase in fatalities in 2018 compared to the previous year could be linked to the hottest summer on record, which saw a surge in coastal visitors and the participation of watersports.
  • Please contact Oliver Wynne-Simpson if you are interested in attention the media opportunity on 07795127351. Alternatively, contact or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 / pressoffice@rnli.org.uk.

Darren Harries

Darren Harries

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.

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