The RNLI have launched a major drowning awareness campaign calling for beach-goers to ‘Respect the Water’ after figures revealed that 13 people lost their lives on Cornwall’s coast last year.
Coastal fatality figures released by the RNLI highlight a clear gender divide, with adult men the most likely to lose their lives, accounting for 60 per cent of coastal deaths in the South West region over this time.
While many would assume adrenaline sports and rough weather are the biggest causes of incidents, in fact, it is casual, everyday use of the coast and sea which often results in fatalities.
Swimming and general leisure use of the water accounted for 22 (17 per cent) of the coastal deaths in the south west since 2010.
It is not only water-based activities which put people in danger. Slips and falls while walking and running accounted for 28 (22 per cent) of the coastal deaths in the south west over the four-year period.
For those entering the water, intentionally or otherwise, cold water shock is a significant danger.
Despite warm summer air temperatures, the UK sea temperature is cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock – the average UK sea temperature is just 12oc , but cold water shock can set in at any temperature below 15oc.
It causes uncontrollable gasping, which draws water into the lungs. The charity is warning people to be aware of the effects of cold water shock and to acclimatise gradually when getting in to the water.
Other common factors are rip currents and fatigue. Rip currents consistently account for around two-thirds of the incidents RNLI lifeguards respond to each season. For those not at a lifeguarded beach, being caught in a rip can prove fatal if they don’t take the right steps to free themselves and make it safely to shore.
Panicking and trying to swim against strong currents is exhausting and can overwhelm even the strongest swimmers. The RNLI’s advice is to not swim against the rip current but, instead, to call for help and swim parallel to shore until free from the rip current and then make for the safety of the beach.
Throughout the summer, the RNLI’s ‘Respect the Water punchbag’, containing quarter of a tonne of water, will be touring around key UK seaside locations.
Members of the public will be invited to take on the challenge, to see how long they can last when battling with that weight of water, reinforcing the point that water never tires but people do.
The punchbag will be in Newquay during the Boardmasters festival, from August 6–10.
James Millidge, the RNLI’s coastal safety manager in the south west, said: “Our key advice is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, where you’ll have professional lifeguards looking out for you.
“If you want a few drinks in the sun on the beach, remember that alcohol and water don’t mix, so drink after swimming, not before. Remember that, despite warm air temperatures, the UK sea temperature is cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock, so acclimatise gradually in shallow water.
“Don’t over-estimate your ability – the sea is a very different environment to a pool and even the strongest swimmers can tire quickly.”