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Wales’s coastal deaths released: 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 20 people lost their lives around Wales’s coast last year, the highest number since 2011.

The number of near-fatal incidents was even higher, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in Wales saving 78 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. Last year saw an increase in the number of men3 losing their lives at the Welsh coast. Between 2011 and 2014, men accounted for three-quarters (75%) of Welsh coastal deaths but, in 2015, this increased to 85%.

A surprising trend is that many of the coastal deaths each year are people who never planned to enter the water. Of the 20 coastal deaths in Wales last year, nearly half (45%) did not intend to get wet – people taking part in activities such as coastal walking and running, which accounted for one-fifth (20%) of the deaths.

General leisure use of the water, including jumping in, accounted for nearly one-third (30%) of last year’s deaths around the Welsh coast. 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.

Nicola Davies, RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for Wales, 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. We lose an average of 19 lives at the Welsh 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 fact that so many 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 on channels 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 Wales for 2011–2015 are 22, 18, 17, 19 and 20.
• Nicola Davies is available for interview. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below to arrange interviews.


RNLI media contacts

For more information, contact Eleri Roberts, RNLI Press Officer Wales, on 07771 941390 / Eleri_Roberts@rnli.org.uk or Danielle Rush, RNLI Public Relations Manager, on 07786 668829 / Danielle_Rush@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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For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

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