Coastal fatality figures released on 9 June by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) show the number of deaths at the UK coast reached a five year high in 2015, with 168 people losing their lives. The number of near fatal incidents was higher still, with the RNLI’s UK lifeboat crews and lifeguards saving 385 lives in 2015.
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 most incidents. Last year saw an increase in the number of men losing their lives at the coast. Between 2011 and 2014 men have accounted for three-quarters (75%) of coastal deaths but, in 2015, this increased to 84%.
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 168 deaths last year, over half (52%) 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 accounted for over one-fifth (21%) of last year’s coastal deaths.
James Millidge, RNLI Coastal Safety Manager, 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. Over 160 lives are lost at the UK 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 charity is asking people to visit the Respect the Water campaign web site where they will find information on coastal hazards, how to keep themselves safe, and what to do should they or someone else end up in trouble in the water. On social media search #RespectTheWater.
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.