Water safety campaign launched as data shows 35M people plan to visit the coast
Despite warmer weather arriving, sea temperatures remain dangerously cold, increasing the risk of cold water shock
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) with the support of Her Majesty’s (HM) Coastguard have launched a water safety campaign as a new study reveals around 35M people plan to visit the UK coast this summer.
In a survey commissioned by the RNLI, 85% of the UK adult population (aged 16-64) expect to visit the UK coast or use the beach or sea between now and the end of September, this is up from 75% this time last year. 42% expect to go three times or more.
Ahead of the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and half-term holidays, the RNLI with the support of HM Coastguard are launching a water safety campaign, urging everyone to remember that if you get into trouble in the water, Float to Live. To do this: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. In a coastal emergency, call 999 or 112 for the Coastguard.
There were 277 deaths in the UK from accidental drownings in 2021, across inland and coastal locations, an increase of 23 from the previous year. 40% of people who died had no intention of entering the water, such as those walking, with causes including slips, trips and falls, being cut off by the tide, or swept in by waves.
Using the Float to Live technique has helped save the lives of many people, including Dave Henderson, 52, from Ilminster and Brian Harding, 73, from Chard. They were on a fishing trip on the River Axe, near Axmouth, when they got into trouble in the water.
They had been out on the boat for some time, it was a sunny, calm evening and they were heading back to shore. Suddenly, a freak wave hit their boat and it capsized, flinging them into the water just as it was getting dark. Once in the water, Dave, who has a heart condition, could feel the current from the river taking him out to sea. He knew he couldn’t swim long enough or hard enough to make it back to shore.
He recalled seeing an RNLI poster in his local yacht club which explained that if you get into difficulty in the water, you should Float to Live: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. Using this advice, he lay on his back and floated whilst he waited for help to arrive.
Luckily for Dave and Brian, a fisherman who was taking photos of the sunset saw what happened and raised the alarm by calling 999 and asking for the Coastguard.
Dave said: ‘I was in the water for 20 or 30 minutes. I’ve never been in the water like that so I was concentrating on what I needed to do before my brain started shutting down, because I knew I was at risk of hyperthermia. At my local yacht club there is an RNLI poster with Float to Live advice on it, I walk by it on a daily basis so it really reinforced the message, I knew to lay back in the water whilst we waited for help.
‘I feel exceedingly lucky to be alive. There were so many things that were important to our rescue, from the onlooker on the beach who knew what to do and called 999 and asked for Coastguard, to the speed the RNLI were able to launch. I’m also very grateful I saw that RNLI poster so many times that I instinctively knew to Float to Live.’
Brian had even more difficulty in the water because his leg was in a plaster cast. At first, he also tried to swim and fight the current. It was too hard though, especially with his leg in a cast and he knew he wouldn’t have the energy to carry on for long.
Brian said: ‘I was in the water for a long time. I could feel the current from the river was taking me right out, it must have been about half a mile out. I tried to swim and fight the current, but it wasn’t possible. I had no option other than to start floating on my back. The water was freezing and it was really dark by this point, using Float to Live gave me that vital time to catch my breath whilst we waited for help to arrive. I’m so grateful to the RNLI who arrived on the scene and rescued us. I wouldn’t be here today without them.’
Lyme Regis RNLI Lifeboat Station was tasked to the shout and crew members quickly arrived on the scene. They managed to locate and rescue Dave and Brian who have made a full recovery since the incident and can credit floating on their back whilst they waited for help as saving their lives.
Gabbi Batchelor, Water Safety Education Manager at the RNLI said: ‘We are expecting the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and the half-term holidays to be incredibly busy at the coast. We want everyone to enjoy their trip but we also want to make sure people stay safe and know what to do in an emergency.
‘It is important that anyone visiting the coast understands the risks of the environment. It can be very unpredictable, particularly during early summer when the risk of cold water shock significantly increases, as air temperatures warm but water temperatures remain dangerously cold.
‘If you get into trouble in the water, Float to Live: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. In a coastal emergency, call 999 or 112 for the Coastguard.’
The RNLI is also reminding people to visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags this summer.
Jon, from Yorkshire was spending the final day of his Cornish holiday paddling waist-deep at Mawgan Porth beach when RNLI lifeguard Alex spotted him being swept out to sea by a very powerful flash rip current.
After multiple attempts to get back to shore and as the rip rapidly dragged him further out to sea, Jon was struggling to keep his head above the water when he remembered the RNLI’s safety advice to Float to Live from his training as a police officer and from reading the RNLI’s safety messaging over the years.
By leaning back in the water, extending his arms and legs and resisting the urge to thrash around, Jon managed to gain control of his breathing and stay afloat whilst lifeguard Alex paddled out to him on a rescue board. After fighting the rip current, Alex was joined by two other lifeguards and they all eventually managed to get Jon onto the rescue watercraft (RWC) and brought him safely to shore.
Jon was in shock and had swallowed a lot of water but was otherwise uninjured. After such a traumatic experience, the lifeguards were impressed with just how well Jon coped with the situation.
Jon said: ‘I tried to do everything right but it was completely out of my control.
‘The waves were taking me under, I was rolling and getting back up, getting a breath and then my head was back under and that was when I thought ‘this is it.’ When I saw Alex, I had never been so pleased to see anyone in my life. All four of the lifeguards did so well, it was stupendous. I cannot find words to thank or praise them enough. It’s also incredible that the lifeguards that saved me have also gone on to win gallantry awards.’
Gabbi Batchelor, Water Safety Education Manager at the RNLI said: ‘As the coast is getting busier now that the warmer weather is here, we’d also like to remind people to visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags. It’s important to remember to swim between those flags because lifeguards put them on the safest stretch of water and patrol this area.’
For further information on the water safety campaign visit: https://rnli.org/FloatUK2022
A full list of RNLI lifeguarded beaches can be found here: rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeguarded-beaches
 Office for National Statistics: 2021 UK population aged 16-64: 41.2M
 Basis Research, RNLI Water Safety Survey, April 2022. Representative sample of 1,013 UK adults aged 16-64 / 505 Irish adults age 16-64
 Water Incident Database (WAID), maintained by the National Water Safety Forum. To view and download the WAID 2021 report visit: https://www.nationalwatersafety.org.uk/waid
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.
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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.