On Monday evening (8th February 2021), our RNLI Community Safety Team continued Project Gnosis* and undertook a very interesting and informative on-line awareness session concerning open water swimming delivered by team member Dave Bennett who is also an RNLI lifeguard and Chairman of Broadstairs Surf Lifesaving Club.
RNLI Volunteers and HM Coastguard Rescue Teams remain on-call, ready to help others during lockdown. However, we urge everyone to think carefully about using the sea for exercise or recreation incase you get into difficulty.
Open Water Swimming in lakes, rivers and at the coast has really taken off in the last few years (particularly during the last year and in lockdown) and it is one of the largest growing sports in the UK. Swimmers tell us that it can significantly boost their mental wellbeing, fitness levels, mood, it’s highly invigorating, improves circulation and immune systems.
RNLI lifeboat stations, the RLSS (UK Royal Life Saving Society) and their affiliated lifesaving clubs, in common with many other charitable organisations, have cancelled their very popular festive swimming events due to COVID-19 safety considerations. Also taking into account the responsibility to ensure that blue light emergency services are not called out needlessly and the impact on the National Health Service is managed.
The RNLI and RLSS are urging anyone who does venture into the sea or other open water locations over the Christmas and New Year period to be aware of the risks and enjoy themselves as safely as possible.
The RNLI and HM Coastguard have both been busy responding to incidents involving swimmers this winter.
Earlier in December the Portishead lifeboat crew rescued a swimmer who had been in the sea for 80 minutes, while Sunderland lifeboat pulled another to safety after spotting him in the rough conditions thanks to his bright orange swimming cap and tow float.
Have Emergency call-outs to swimming related incidents increased?
HM Coastguard have reported a 79.8%* increase in emergency call-outs for swimming related incidents year-on-year between January and November, compared to the same period in 2019.
Lee Heard, RLSS UK – Director, said: ‘While festive dips are an increasingly popular tradition with brave bathers in plummeting temperatures, we are concerned that with the cancellation of well organised and lifeguarded events combined with a rise in open water swimming participation this year that individuals may still choose to dip this festive period.
‘We simply urge swimmers to stay safe, be prepared and consider their actions on our already stressed emergency services, including the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews.’
Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water which is 15°C or below, with the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland at this time of year just 6-10°C – which also poses a risk of hypothermia, even for the most experienced of open water swimmers.
RNLI Water Safety Partner Samantha Hughes said: ‘No one goes into the water in the expectation of needing to be rescued but we are asking anyone considering going for a festive dip to understand the dangers and not take unnecessary risks so they can have a good time, safely.
‘We recommend checking with your doctor before trying a cold water dip for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.
‘It is important to respect the water and there are a number of things you can do to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time such as not swimming alone, staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards which sounds obvious but is crucial to avoid any delayed effects of the cold and hypothermia.
‘The most important thing to remember is if you are in any doubt, stay out of the water and if you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’
What top safety tips should I follow if I intend going for a festive dip?
Should I wear a wetsuit? Yes, this will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering from cold water shock
Should I go with a friend? If at all possible, if you can’t go to a familiar bathing spot and tell someone when you plan to be back
What happens if I jump straight into the water? This could lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly. acclimatise slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming
Should I wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float? Yes, always wear one that is brightly coloured and a tow float is highly recommended.
How deep should I go? Know your limits and don’t stay in the water for more than 10 minutes
I have heard of ‘float to live’ what does it mean? – If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing. This is what the RNLI call ‘Float to Live’.
What number and who do I call if I get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble? Dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately ask for the Coastguard giving as accurate location as possible
If I am in any doubt what should I do? There is always another day to go for a swim, if you have any doubts stay out of the water
RNLI Lifeboats have faced a summer like now other with statistics revealing a huge increase in the number of people (water users***) requiring assistance by local lifeboat crews compared to the year 2019.
Lifeboat stations see increase in call-outs
Based on incident reports (provisional)** submitted by RNLI lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland, there was a 64% increase in the number of recreational water users assisted by the RNLI. After every emergency call-out an incident return has to be submitted by the station detailing what the incident was about, the location, action taken etc).
Lifeguards reported increase in beach visitor numbers
Lifeguards also reported seeing a significant increase in the number of visitors to beaches around the coast. RNLI lifeguards working on two beaches in Thanet carried out an unprecedented number of rescues -including 24 people rescued in a single day at Ramsgate Main Beach and carrying out a successful CPR on a six year old girl who had collapsed and stopped breathing at Botany Bay.
The Lifeguards also rescued a man in his 50’s at Botany Bay who was out of his depth and being hit against the chalk sea stack to the west of the beach.
On Friday, 31st RNLI lifeguards Neil Morgan (member of our Community Safety Team & Ramsgate Lifeboat crew) and Chris Wilson, patrolling on Ramsgate Main Beach, had to rescue 24 people who were in danger of being swept out to sea by rip currents.
Those rescued included children, adults and the elderly. In one incident, lifeguard Neil Morgan had to dive into the water with his rescue tube after spotting two children who had been caught in a rip current and were being swept towards the harbour entrance. Neil and Chris also escorted a further six children to safety.
In another incident lifeguards took to a rescue ATV (quad bike) to get close to a group of swimmers who were in danger and close to the harbour entrance and persuaded them to come to shore for their safety.
HM Coastguard reported the day as having the highest number of call-outs in four years.
The statistics include people who got into trouble whilst :
Biggest Increase this Summer in incidents involving inflatables
In the South East of England which includes covering 31 lifeboat stations stretching from the Thames to Swanage, saw the biggest increase the summer 2020 (June to August) in incidents involving inflatables.
During 2019 lifeboat stations in the South East launched 20 times to people in difficulty with inflatables and 26 people were helped. In 2020 there were 37 launches and 89 people aided – a 242.3% increase.
The second biggest increase was lifeboat launches to waterside activities which includes:
In 2019 RNLI lifeboats in the South East launched 10 times to these types of incidents and helped nine people, in 2020 there were 14 launches and 28 people helped – an increase of 211.1%.
The growing popularity of paddle boarding during 2020 is also reflected in the figures. In 2019 the South East’s lifeboats launched eight times and four paddle boarders were assisted. In 2020 the number of launches increased to 12 with 12 people also assisted by crews.
Inflatables are not designed for the coast!
The South East RNLI Water Safety Lead Guy Addington, said “the figures highlighted the dangers inflatables can pose at the coast and urged people to leave them at home in the future:
“Inflatables can be great fun, but they are not designed for the beach as it’s easy to get swept out to sea,’ As these figures demonstrate, inflatables are one of the most common reasons our lifeboat crews are called to action during the summer months”.
‘They are particularly dangerous when there are strong offshore winds and there were a number of incidents around the South East this summer where people, in some cases children, suddenly found themselves being swept hundreds of metres offshore. Were it not for our lifeboat crews responding so quickly some of these incidents could easily have resulted in a tragedy. The best place to enjoy inflatables is in an enclosed area such as a swimming pool”.
As the light faded, time was of the essence and with a police helicopter hovering overhead as a marker, the lifeboat was on the scene in 12 minutes and rescued the pair who by that time had become separated from their inflatable. They were cold and distressed and had been in the water for 40 minutes.
On the same day the crew also rescued a seven-year-old girl spotted drifting out to sea on an inflatable lollipop and an 11-year-old on an inflatable dinghy.
Margate & Ramsgate Lifeboats are often called out incidents involving inflatables
Both Margate and Ramsgate lifeboats are also often called to incidents involving inflatables during the summer months, several of which turn out to be beach toys drifting out to sea. Both stations were kept busy during lockdown 1.0 with some days seeing their respective crew pagers going off more than once in a 24 hour period.
‘This is the other big concern with inflatable beach toys,’ explained Guy. ‘Often lifeboat crews are launched to inflatables drifting out to sea because of fears there could be people in the water. Extensive searches are often carried out only to discover the toys have been blown off the beach. This could mean the lifeboat crew are unable to respond to other, perhaps more serious, incidents”.
“With Christmas just a month away we’d urge anyone considering buying their loved one an inflatable to put safety first and make it clear it’s not to be used on the coast,” he added.
The RNLI’s Head of Water Safety, Gareth Morrison, said: ‘Our volunteer crews have been on call throughout the pandemic. This year, they faced a summer like no other.
‘When lockdown restrictions eased, we saw people flock to the beaches to enjoy our coastlines instead of holidaying abroad. But that resulted in a huge number of people getting into difficulty around our coasts, with our lifesavers facing an incredibly busy summer.
‘If you find yourself in trouble at the coast this winter, call ‘999’ and ask for the Coastguard.’
Personal protective Equipment – COVID-19
The RNLI has spent £1.2M on personal protective equipment this year to help keep its volunteers and lifeguards and the public safe during COVID-19, including almost 700,000 face masks, 2.4 million gloves and 4,700 litres of hand sanitiser. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 risk assessments lifeboat fundraising events and shops have had to be cancelled and or shut (including Ramsgate and Margate’s fantastic fundraising teams).
RNLI Lifeboat Crews Still On-Call
RNLI Lifeboat crew have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep people safe as lockdown restrictions eased and people flocked to the coast. The RNLI relies on the support of the public to continue saving lives – and that support is needed now more than ever. The charity has launched its Christmas Appeal. Why not find out more how you can help the RNLI this Christmas. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
**The complete statistics for lifeguards and lifeboats will be available in early 2021.
*** Waterside activities include paddling up to the knees, wading up to the chest, beach combing, cockle, mussel picking (not commercial) cycling, driving (or parked in vehicle) horse-riding, metal detecting, playing games (non-competitive), relaxing and rock pooling.
According to the Royal Lifesaving Society (RLSS) 85% of accidental drowings occur at open water sites such as lakes, rivers, loch’s and man made open water such as quarries and reservoirs . A significant number occur due to lack of knowledge around the dangers and risks involved. In 2018 73 people drowned in rivers (source National Water Safety Forum). You are more likely to die from drowning than you are being hit by a car or in being in a fire. One in 10 people admit nearly drowning.
Here are some handy tips to help keep you safe at Open Water:
1. Check out local hazard signs which will inform you about local risk
2. Swim parralell to the shore – even water which appears calm and flat can change with weather and seasons
4. Don’t consume alcohol before or during a swimming session. It impedes judgement and reduces inhabitions resulting in people taking risks.
5. Always take a friend so that they can call for help if something goes wrong.
6. Wear a correctly maintained lifejacket or buoyancy aid if you are taking part in sailing, fishing or other water activity.
7. If you or another person gets into difficulty shout for help – call ‘999’ or ‘112’ ask for the Fire Service straight away (for all coastal emergencies always ask for the Coastguard).
8. If someone gets into difficulty and if you can do so safely throw them an object which will float such as a lifebuoy or similar. At some locations rescue equipment such as a throw bag or reach pole maybe available.
9. Be aware that under water hazards can exist which are hidden such as rocks, discarded shopping trolley’s, bicycles or rubbish.
Further top advice concerning open water safety from the RLSS can be found via this link
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