RNLI reminds swimmers and dippers of cold water risks after five lives saved last winter

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is urging anyone taking part in open water swims and dips to be aware of the risks.

By Louise Hollingsworth
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 1:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 1:29 pm
The RNLI is reminding swimmers and dippers of cold water risks after five lives were saved last winter
The RNLI is reminding swimmers and dippers of cold water risks after five lives were saved last winter

The reminder comes following five people are alive today after being rescued in swimming related incidents last winter.

Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water that is 15°C or below while swim failure and hypothermia can also pose a risk, especially at this time of year when the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland is just 6 to 10°C

Last winter, the RNLI saved the lives of five swimmers and helped a further 12 back to safety.

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One of those saved was a sea swimmer who was struggling to get back ashore as the tide had turned. The alarm was raised by other swimmers and as the lifeboat from Portishead arrived the swimmer was struggling to stay afloat, drifting in and out of consciousness and extremely cold.

Volunteers from Hayling Island saved two swimmers who were spotted clinging to a buoy, while off the Sunderland coast, a group of swimmers called 999 after losing sight of one of their friends who was then saved by the RNLI. In Sligo Bay, Ireland, four swimmers found themselves in trouble in large swells. One person was recovered by the RNLI, one made it ashore independently and two others were airlifted to safety by the Coast Guard helicopter.

Nick Ayers, RNLI Regional Water Safety Lead, North and East, said: “We’ve seen a big increase in the number of people taking up dipping and open water swimming, and it’s amazing so many people are feeling the benefits of a new activity. However, for many, this is their first experience of the sea in the colder winter months, so we’re asking everyone to be aware of risks before they enter the water, know how to keep themselves and others safe, and to Respect the Water.

“With the sea temperatures still dropping and reaching their coldest around March, the effects of cold water, combined with weather conditions and any personal health issues should be taken seriously before venturing in. If it’s your first time in open water, we’d recommend you speak to your GP first, particularly for those with cardiac or underlying health conditions.

“There are a number of precautions you can take to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time. Avoid swimming alone, consider going with others or joining a group so you can look out for each other. Think about the depth of water and if you can, stay in your depth.

“Also taking the right kit is essential. We’d recommend wearing a wetsuit to keep you warm and increase your buoyancy, together with a bright swim cap and tow float to make yourself visible to others and use in an emergency.

“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 and ask for the Coastguard.

“Even the well prepared can find themselves in difficultly but having the correct knowledge and equipment can save lives. Taking a means of calling for help with you, such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch with a whistle, really could be a lifesaver.’

In November, Newquay RNLI launched to a swimmer in difficulty who was quickly spotted thanks to her bright swim cap and airlifted to safety. And in Scotland, a dipper got into difficulty when finding herself in deep water but managed to hold onto her tow float before Kinghorn RNLI plucked her from the sea after receiving multiple 999 calls.

RNLI safety tips for taking a winter swim or dip:

Be prepared – Check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height. Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink for when you come out of the water. Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock

Never swim alone – always go with a buddy, if possible, to a familiar spot and tell someone when you plan to be back

Acclimatise slowly – never jump straight in as this can lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming

Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float

Stay in your depth - know your limits including how long to stay in the water and swim parallel to the shore

Float to live - 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

Call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard - if you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble call for help immediately

If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim

Watch the RNLI video on ‘Top tips for cold dips’ here on RNLI YouTube.For the latest RNLI safety advice on a range of activities visit: https://rnli.org/safety