Keeping safe on the Thames this summer
Tuesday 25 July is World Drowning Prevention Day, which is as important on the river as on the sea. This year a water safety campaign is being launched by Richmond Council with the support of Teddington RNLI Lifeboat Station.
The video, social media and bus advertising campaign targets young people who are tempted to jump into the river while enjoying their summer holidays. It gives valuable advice on what to do if someone gets into trouble in the water and how to get help. London Fire Brigade was also an integral part of putting the video together.
Councillor Gareth Roberts, leader of Richmond Council, said: ‘The Thames is an important feature of our borough and we want people to use it safely. We are very grateful to Teddington RNLI for their help in putting this campaign together.’
At its launch, Miranda Jaggers, head of water safety at Teddington RNLI Lifeboat Station is interviewed on the dangers of the river, (especially in the summer) and gives valuable advice on how to stay safe on the water.
How many people die or are seriously injured on the Thames each year?
According to RNLI figures, tragically 16 people died in the Thames between Hampton Court and the sea in 2022. In all, the RNLI stations at Teddington, Chiswick and Tower were called out 1088 times to help 222 people and 27 lives were saved.
Why is the Thames especially dangerous?
It has very strong currents and is tidal. It is also very cold. Even in the summer the water temperature is only 15 degrees just 30cm below the surface, that is cold enough to send someone onto cold-water shock.
There is submerged debris like supermarket trolleys and bicycles as well as parts of old bridges and jetties. These cause eddies and currents which can draw swimmers towards or even under them.
Do you think there are more accidents/incidents in the summer or the winter?
In 2022 RNLI Teddington figures show that there were more than double the number in the summer than in the winter. This is largely because there are more people on and in the river when the weather is warmer.
What can happen to you if you jump into the river?
When you jump or fall into the river, you take an involuntary breath, it feels like being badly winded, causing you to breathe in water. Within 30 to 90 seconds cold-water shock will set in, your pulse rate will increase and your body will react by sending blood to your vital organs and away from your limbs. You will not be able to swim as effectively, if at all. Even Olympic swimmers can be affected within a couple of minutes.
I have heard that it can give you a heart attack, is that true?
It is possible as the shock of going into the water increases your heart rate; It closes the capillaries under your skin which increases your blood pressure. In addition, if you have been in the water for a while before being rescued and you are elevated or are sitting down recovering, your blood will go to your legs, depriving your heart and therefore increasing the danger of a heart attack. This has even happened to fit young people after they have been rescued.
If someone falls into the river, what should they do? What should anyone who is with them do?
If you fall into the river, follow the RNLI Float to Live advice: lie on your back with your ears just below the water (this will help your legs to float). Try to breathe slowly and to relax, use your hands to gently scull the water.
If you are with someone in difficulty or see someone in trouble in the river call 999 for emergency services. They will contact the RNLI lifeboat station who will send a lifeboat. Do not go into the water to help out - you also might get into trouble and the emergency services would have two people to rescue. Instead, look for something nearby to use that could reach them – your coat, a branch, a throw bag; there are boards with throw bags and instructions on how to use them at busy riverside locations. Ask passers-by to help and keep an eye on the person in the water, they will move with the river.
Is the Thames busier today than previously?
Yes. Down river, in central London, there is more traffic from clippers, tourist sightseeing boats and other commercial traffic. In the part of the river covered by Teddington lifeboat station (Hampton Court to Richmond) we have seen an increase in hire boats, paddleboards and wild swimming in the summer
What do you think about open water swimming in the Thames? How can you swim in the Thames safely?
The river is a wonderful place and I want everyone to enjoy the water, but to do it safely. If you are going to go swimming tell someone where a you are going and when you will be back, swim with a buddy and wear a brightly coloured swimming cap. and use a tow-float. Get into the water slowly, don’t jump. You don’t know how deep the water is or if there is anything in the water. Always swim parallel to the river bank, not across the river
If you are on a paddleboard, or a boat, wear a lifejacket and take your phone with you – and use a waterproof phone pouch to keep your phone safe.
Does the RNLI cover all of the Thames?
No. We operate from Hampton Court through the city of London and out past Gravesend RNLI Lifeboat station to the sea.
What made you want to be involved in Water Safety with the RNLI?
I have always enjoyed being on or near the water and have lived and worked on the Thames for many years. This seemed like a great way to make my knowledge useful the community and become part of the RNLI family.
What are your three rules for enjoying the river when the weather is warm?
Tell someone where you are and when you expect to be back
Take your phone
Wear a lifejacket if you are on a paddleboard or on a boat.
- ends -
Notes to editors
· Visit https://rnli.org/safety/float for full advice on the RNLI Float to Live campaign
· Teddington RNLI Lifeboat Stations one of four on the Thames and has a total team of around 45 volunteers, including fundraisers, education and water safety teams.
· Like all RNLI stations, it is funded wholly by donations and receives no government support
· The station’s crew saved four lives in 2022, having been called out 106 times.
· If you are interested in volunteering with the RNLI, visit https://rnli.org/support-us/volunteer/how-you-can-volunteer
RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Gianna Saccomani, RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07798905515 or [email protected] or Grace Palmieri, RNLI Deputy Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07855487508 or [email protected], or Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer on 07785 296252 [email protected] or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
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
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries