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RNLI warning to Respect the Water during the ‘deadliest’ month at the East Anglian coast

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Burnham on Crouch RNLI on a casualty evacuation exercise

Burnham on Crouch RNLI on a casualty evacuation exercise

More people die at the East Anglian coast in August than in any other month of the year1, according to figures released today by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

With the summer holidays well underway, research from the lifesaving charity also reveals a worrying discovery: that less than one-fifth (17%) of the UK population say they would call 999 immediately to request help if they saw someone fall into open water2.

The number of non-fatal incidents is also highest in August, with the charity’s lifeboat crews in the region launching to most emergencies at sea during this busy summer month3. The charity is reminding people to dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard in the event of an emergency at the coast.

Over the past five years, there have been 11 deaths at the East Anglian coast in August, more than in any other month4, which is in line with the national trend. This is also the busiest time of year for the RNLI’s lifesavers overall. Last August the charity’s lifeboat crews in the region launched their lifeboats in response to 126 emergencies (22% of their total annual launches and the highest number since 2012).

As part of the RNLI’s drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, the charity is calling on the public to help save more lives during this busy August period by remembering and sharing key survival skills. First:

If you see someone else in danger in the water, fight your instincts to go in after them and instead call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

Research commissioned by the RNLI has revealed that less than one-fifth (17%) of people in the UK say they would call 999 immediately to request help if they saw someone fall into open water5.

While summer air temperatures may be warm, UK and Irish waters rarely exceed 15C, making them cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock, which causes the instinctive reaction to gasp and swim hard, which can quickly lead to drowning. With around half the coastal deaths each year being people who accidentally slip or fall into the water, the RNLI’s second piece of advice is:

If you fall into cold water, fight your instincts to swim hard and thrash about. Instead, float for 60–90 seconds until the effects of cold water shock pass and you can catch your breath before then swimming to safety or calling for help.

Ben Mitchell, RNLI Community Safety Partner for East Anglia, said:

‘With summer holidays upon us and hopefully some hot weather, our fantastic beaches are naturally a draw for many people – but sadly this also means more people tragically losing their lives or getting into serious danger at the coast.

‘We need to start a national conversation that encourages people to fight their instincts around water, so we are asking people to remember and share two skills.The first is, if you see someone else in trouble, don’t go into the water yourself as you may also end up in serious danger. Instead, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. The second is, if you fall into cold water, fight your instincts to swim hard or thrash about as this could lead to drowning. Instead, relax and float on your back, keeping your airway clear, for around 60–90 seconds. This will allow the effects of cold water shock to pass so you can regain control of your breathing and then swim to safety or call for help. Just remembering these two simple points could help save your life, or someone else’s, this summer.’

Anyone planning a trip to the beach is advised by the RNLI to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, which is the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards.

The RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, is part of the charity’s work to halve coastal drownings by 2024. The theme of the campaign is: ‘Fight your instincts, not the water.’ It reminds people of the risks but, most importantly, provides them with the skills to survive for longer if they unexpectedly find themselves in water, and the knowledge of what to do should they see someone else in danger. The RNLI is asking people to visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater where they will find safety advice. On social media search #RespectTheWater.

1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2012–2016. 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).
2 Basis research conducted on behalf of the RNLI (nationally representative sample across the UK n=1,010).
3 RNLI incident data.
4 Five-year (2012–2016) East Anglia coastal death figures by quarter are: Jan-Mar 16; Apr-Jun 11; Jul-Sept 22; Oct-Dec 4.
5 Respondents asked (unprompted): Think about what you would do if you saw somebody who had fallen into open water. What actions, if any, would you take to help somebody in this situation? Please tell us in as much detail as you can in the box provided, starting with the very first thing you would do.

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