Father whose son was lost at sea warns others to Respect the Water
Coastal fatality figures(1) released today (9 June) by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) show 31 people lost their lives around the south west coast last year.
The number of near-fatal incidents was higher still, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the south west saving 134 lives in 2015(2).
The figures are released as the charity enters the third year of its national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, which aims to halve accidental coastal deaths by 2024.
The campaign is targeted at adult men, who account for by far the most incidents. Last year saw an increase in the number of men(3) losing their lives at the coast. Between 2011 and 2014 men accounted for nearly three-quarters (71%) of coastal deaths in the south west but, in 2015, this increased to 90%.
A surprising trend is that around half of the people who die at the coast each year never planned to enter the water. Of the 31 deaths at the south west coast in 2015, over half (52%) were people did not intend to get wet – people taking part in activities such as coastal walking, running, climbing or angling. In fact, coastal walking and running alone accounted for nearly a quarter (23%) of last year’s coastal deaths in the region.
Phil Bindon’s son Mike was lost at sea in 2014, aged 23, after being swept in by an unexpected wave at Polzeath in Cornwall. Phil and his daughters Katie and Jenny are sharing the story of their personal tragedy, to warn others of the power and unpredictability of the water. Phil says:
‘Mike and his friend were out at the coast at Polzeath. A freak wave caught Mike and swept him into the water. The lifeboats and helicopter were out searching for hours. I just wanted Mike back home. It was very hard as a parent to know that he was out there somewhere and there was nothing I could do about getting him back.
‘Two years later, Mike’s body has never been found. It breaks my heart. No one expects to lose a child. An accident like this is a tragedy that I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through. I want people to learn from Mike’s death and understand how dangerously unpredictable the sea can be. Accidents like this can happen to anyone.’
Over the past five years, 164 lives have been lost at the south west coast – an average of 33 each year. The RNLI is aiming to halve the number of coastal deaths by 2024 and is this year renewing its warning to people about the dangers of cold water, slips and falls, rip currents and waves.
James Millidge, RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for the south west, says:
‘People need to treat the water with respect – it’s powerful and unpredictable. Each year RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards save hundreds of lives but, sadly, not everyone can be saved. We lose an average of 33 lives on the south west coast each year and the real tragedy of the situation is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.
‘Cold water is a real killer. People often don’t realise how cold our seas can be – even in summer months the sea temperature rarely exceeds 12oc, which is low enough to trigger cold water shock. If you enter the water suddenly at that temperature, you’ll start gasping uncontrollably, which can draw water into your lungs and cause drowning. The coldness also numbs you, leaving you helpless – unable to swim or shout for help.
‘The fact that over half of the people who die at the coast each year never planned to enter the water suggests people are also not taking enough care along the coastline itself. We’re warning people to stay away from cliff edges, particularly where there is slippery, unstable or uneven ground; stick to marked paths and keep an eye on the water – watch out for unexpected waves which can catch you out and sweep you into the water.
‘If you’re planning to get into the water be aware that, even if it looks calm on the surface, there can be strong rip currents beneath the surface, which can quickly drag you out to sea. The sea is powerful and can catch out even the strongest and most experienced swimmers.’
UK-wide, the number of lives lost at the coast reached a five-year high last year, with 168 lives lost. The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and, for the first time, on catch-up TV channels.
The charity is asking people to visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater where they will find information on how to stay safe.
1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. 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 RNLI lifeboat incident data 2015 (exc call-outs to self-harm incidents) and RNLI lifeguard incident data 2015.
3 All males except for those known to be under 18. Includes those where age was not recorded.
Notes to Editors
- Phil, Katie and Jenny Bindon, and James Millidge from the RNLI are available for interview. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below to arrange interviews.
- Provisional coastal fatality data taken from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. The figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The fatality figures for the south west for 2011–2015 are: 31, 34, 32, 36 and 31.
- In 2015, walking and running contributed to most coastal deaths in the south west, accounting for 23% (7). Swimming, jumping in and general leisure use accounted for 16% (5), as did sailing.
RNLI media contacts
For more information, contact Emma Haines, RNLI Public Relations Manager south west, on 07786 668847 / Emma_Haines@rnli.org.uk or 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 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.