RNLI in the North West reminds swimmers and dippers of cold water risks

Lifeboats News Release

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is urging anyone taking part in open water swims and dips to be aware of the risks after revealing five people are alive today after being rescued in swimming related incidents last winter*.


Sophie Wood swimming at Malham, North Yorkshire


Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water that is 15°C or below while swim failure and hypothermia can also pose a risk, especially at this time of year when the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland is just 6 to10°C.


Last winter, the RNLI saved the lives of five swimmers and helped a further 12 back to safety.


Sophie Wood, RNLI Community Manager for the Cheshire, Wirral and Greater Manchester is a keen open water swimmer. Sophie, who lives in Marple, Cheshire, is a regular at locations including Lake Pickmere in Knutsford, Aqua Park in Delamere and Three Shires Head, Cheshire.


She says whilst most open water swimmers enjoy themselves completely safely, is it important to be aware of the potential dangers of taking a dip in the sea at this time of year. She has praised the RNLI’s new film and is urging anyone thinking of taking the plunge to take heed of the charity’s safety advice first.


She says:


‘Since 2019, Wild water outdoor swimming participation is said to have tripled in popularity with research indicating 81% of outdoor swimmers see it as especially important or essential to their general sense of well-being. I honestly can’t imagine not doing this as a hobby, especially during the pandemic which has left a lot of people feeling isolated. I’m so pleased the RNLI has produced this new film and urge anyone thinking of taking a dip to watch this first, as safety always has to be the number one priority.

‘I always swim in a small group of five core people and sometimes a few extra’s tag along, primarily for safety and fun – the camaraderie is fantastic. Most people I swim with do it for physical and mental wellbeing. It’s so much fun whatever the weather but so important that people take their safety seriously.’

Chris Cousens, RNLI Water Safety Lead for the North West said:


‘We’ve seen a big increase in the number of people taking up dipping and open water swimming, and it’s amazing so many people are feeling the benefits of a new activity. However for many, this is their first experience of the sea in the colder winter months, so we’re asking everyone to be aware of risks before they enter the water, know how to keep themselves and others safe, and to Respect the Water.


‘With the sea temperatures still dropping and reaching their coldest around March, the effects of cold water, combined with weather conditions and any personal health issues should be taken seriously before venturing in. If it’s your first time in open water, we’d recommend you speak to your GP first, particularly for those with cardiac or underlying health conditions.


‘There are a number of precautions you can take to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time. Avoid swimming alone, consider going with others or joining a group so you can look out for each other. Think about the depth of water and if you can, stay in your depth.


‘Also taking the right kit is essential. We’d recommend wearing a wetsuit to keep you warm and increase your buoyancy, together with a bright swim cap and tow float to make yourself visible to others and use in an emergency.


‘The most important thing to remember is if you are in any doubt, stay out of the water and if you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.


‘Even the well prepared can find themselves in difficultly but having the correct knowledge and equipment can save lives. Taking a means of calling for help with you, such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch with a whistle, really could be a lifesaver.’



RNLI safety tips for taking a winter swim or dip:

  • Be prepared – Check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height. Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink for when you come out of the water. Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
  • Never swim alone – always go with a buddy, if possible, to a familiar spot and tell someone when you plan to be back
  • Acclimatise slowly – never jump straight in as this can lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming
  • Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
  • Stay in your depth - know your limits including how long to stay in the water and swim parallel to the shore
  • Float to live - If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
  • Call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard - if you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble call for help immediately
  • If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim

Watch the RNLI video on 'Top tips for cold dips' on RNLI YouTube.


For the latest RNLI safety advice on a range of activities visit: https://rnli.org/safety

Notes to editors


RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Manager in Wales and the West on 07786 668829 or Dave Riley, RNLI National Media Officer on 07795 015042 or [email protected] or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

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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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