RNLI urge the public to call 999 if they spot someone in trouble in the water
Coastal death figures released today by the RNLI show more people die at the Scottish coast in August than in any other month of the year, in line with the UK national trend.
But research from the charity shows 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 incidents is also highest in August, with the charity’s lifeboat crews in Scotland 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, 28 people have died at the Scottish coast in August, an average of six August deaths each year, more than any other month4.
This is also the busiest time of year for the RNLI’s lifesavers. Last August the charity’s lifeboat crews in Scotland launched their lifeboats in response to 164 emergencies – 15% of their total annual launches and more than in any other month of the year.
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.
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.
Michael Avril, RNLI Community Safety Partner for Scotland, says: ‘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) Scottish coastal death figures by month are: Jan 22; Feb 6; Mar 10; Apr 18; May 17; Jun 15; Jul 18; Aug 28; Sep 12; Oct 11; Nov 6; Dec 7.
Notes to Editors
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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.
The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.
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