Over half didn’t even intend to go in the sea.
The number of near-misses was even higher, with lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the north of England saving 89 lives in 2014.
The figures are revealed as the RNLI launches a drowning prevention campaign warning people that our waters can be dangerously unpredictable.
The charity is releasing two hard-hitting campaign films, which will be shown in cinemas across the UK and Ireland from tomorrow.
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The five-year figures show that an average of 24 people die around the north England coasts each year.
Of the 121 people who have died over the past five years, half were taking part in activities like walking, running, climbing and boating and were, therefore, unlikely to have intended to enter the water.
Slips and falls while walking and running contributed to the most coastal deaths in the region, accounting for 31% (38).
Swimming, jumping in and general leisure use accounted for 14% (18) of coastal fatalities over the five years; commercial activity 9% (11) and angling 7% (9).
Men are far more prone to getting into danger at the coast than women. Over two-thirds (67%) of the deaths over the five-year period were men. Last year they accounted for 81% (25) of the region’s coastal deaths.
The RNLI is aiming to halve the number of coastal deaths by 2024.
The charity’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, is this year warning people – particularly adult men – to be aware of the dangers of the coastline, as well as the water itself.
Michael Avril, the RNLI’s community incident reduction manager for the north of England, says: “Most people heading for a stroll or run along the coastline probably wouldn’t consider a drowning prevention campaign like this relevant to them as they have no plans to enter the water. We’re warning people that if they’re going near the water, whatever their activity, they could be at risk and they need to take care. Unexpected dangers like slippery rocks, sudden waves or unstable ground can catch anyone out.”
The charity is warning people of the unpredictably of the water, including the dangers of cold water and rip currents. Summer air temperatures may be warm but the average UK sea temperature is just 12C. Cold water shock, which causes uncontrollable gasping and numbs the limbs, can set in at any temperature below 15C.
Rips are strong currents of water which can quickly drag people out of their depth. They account for around two-thirds of the environmental-related incidents RNLI lifeguards respond to each year. For those not at a lifeguarded beach, being caught in a rip can prove fatal if they don’t take the right steps to free themselves and make it safely to shore.
Mr Avril adds: “The water might look inviting but it can be dangerously unpredictable, with hazards which can be fatal if not respected. Cold water is a major risk for anyone who ends up in the water – intentionally or otherwise. The body’s reaction to sudden immersion in cold water will trigger uncontrollable gasping, which can draw water into the lungs and lead to drowning. The coldness will gradually shut down the use of limbs, making it difficult even for strong swimmers to stay afloat.
“Currents under the surface can overwhelm even the strongest swimmers. They can drag people out of their depth so quickly, and if you try to swim against them you’ll become exhausted.
UK-wide, 163 people died at the coast last year. The Respect the Water campaign will run across the UK and Ireland during the summer, through advertising channels including cinema, outdoor, radio and online.
The charity is running safety programmes targeted at those who participate in the activities which account for many coastal incidents each year. For example, a scheme urging divers over 50 to get a health check before their next dive, and another reminding kayakers to make sure they carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach at all times.
Those interested in finding out more about the dangers of the coast can visit the Respect the Water website and see for themselves at www.rnli.org/respectthewater or search #RespectTheWater on social media.
In Scarborough, Kath Duffy is supporting Respect the Water by serving drinks at her pub, the Newcastle Packet, in RNLI polycarbonate glasses inscribed with campaign messages.