Coastal fatality figures released today (June 9) by the RNLI show 37 people lost their lives around the south east coast last year – an increase of 68 per cent on the previous year’s 22 losses.
There were also a number of near-fatal incidents, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the south east saving 36 lives in 20152.
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. Between 2011 and 2014, men accounted for 81 per cent of south east coastal deaths. Last year, 78 per cent of the deaths were men.
A surprising trend is that many of the coastal deaths each year are people who never planned to enter the water.
Of the 37 deaths last year, over one-third (38 per cent) did not intend to get wet – people taking part in activities such as coastal walking and running, or commercial activity, which each accounted for 14 per cent of the fatalities around the south east coast last year.
General leisure use of the water, including swimming and jumping in, accounted for nearly one-third (32 per cent) of the south east’s coastal deaths last year, while people in the water (whose activity was unknown) accounted for 14 per cent.
Over the past five years, 146 lives have been lost at the region’s coast – an average of 29 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.
Guy Addington, RNLI community incident reduction manager for the south east, said: “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 29 lives on the south east 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 12c, 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 in media including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and, for the first time, on catch-up TV channels.
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