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South east coastal deaths up by 68%: RNLI warns ‘treat water with respect'

Lifeboats News Release

Coastal fatality figures 1 released today (9 June) by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) show 37 people lost their lives around the south east coast last year – an increase of 68% 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 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 by far the most incidents. Between 2011 and 2014, men3 accounted for 81% of south east coastal deaths. Last year, 78% 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%) 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% 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%) of the south east’s coastal deaths last year, while people in the water (whose activity was unknown) accounted for 14%.

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.’

The campaign launch comes just days after an incident off the Kent coast where a group of 34 school children and two adults had a lucky escape when they became trapped between a rising tide and dangerous cliffs prone to rock falls. Three RNLI lifeboats along with a Coastguard helicopter and rescue team plucked the group to safety, a rescue which perfectly illustrates the importance of safety advice.

‘Cold water is a real killer,’ Guy continued. ‘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 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.

The charity is asking people to visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater where they will find information on how to stay safe.

1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. 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 RNLI lifeboat incident data 2015 (exc call-outs to self-harm incidents) and RNLI lifeguard incident data 2015. 
3 All males except for those known to be under 18. Includes those where age was not recorded.

Notes to Editors
• Provisional coastal fatality data taken from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. The figures quoted are for water-related fatalities from accidents and natural causes in UK tidal waters. The fatality figures for the south east for the years 2011–2015 are, respectively, 33, 33, 21, 22 and 37.
• Guy Addington is available for interview. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below to arrange interviews.

RNLI media contacts
For more information, contact Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager south east and London, on 07785 296252 / Tim_Ash@rnli.org.uk or James Oxley, RNLI Press Officer south east and London, on 07786 668825 / James_Oxley@rnli.org.uk.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or or by email.