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RNLI launches Respect the Water campaign

Swim England News

The RNLI is asking people to ‘fight your instincts, not the water’ if they fall into the water as part of its new Respect the Water campaign.

Sudden immersion in cold water puts people at severe risk of suffering cold water shock, which triggers the instinctive reaction to gasp uncontrollably and swim hard, which can quickly lead to drowning.

Research commissioned by the RNLI shows that over half of the UK population (54 per cent) would follow this potentially life-threatening instinct if they fell into water.

Last year 162 people lost their lives at the UK coast, of which almost half (44 per cent) did not intend to enter the water.

As a result, the RNLI is focusing this year’s Respect the Water campaign on raising awareness of the need for people to float until the effects of cold water shock has passed and they can catch their breath, before trying to swim to safety or calling for help.

Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, said: “We often rely on our instincts but our instinctive response to sudden immersion in cold water – gasping, thrashing and swimming hard – is potentially a killer. It increases chances of water entering your lungs, increases the strain on your heart, cools the skin further and let’s air escape from any clothing, which then reduces buoyancy.

“Although it’s counter-intuitive, the best immediate course of action in that situation is to fight your instinct and try to float, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60–90 seconds. Floating for this short time [before calling for help] will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase.”

Ross Macleod, RNLI Coastal Safety Manager, added: “Through our Respect the Water campaign, we want to start a national conversation about water safety. We’re asking the public to remember this lifesaving advice, share with others and practice the survival skill of floating – it could be the difference between life and death.”

Swim Safe this summer

Respect the Water launches at the same time as Swim Safe, the outdoor swimming and water safety programme that we run in partnership with the RNLI.

Swim Safe offers children aged 7-14 the opportunity to understand how to stay safe while enjoying swimming outside.  The free hour-long sessions are being held at a range of beach, lake and reservoir locations across the UK this summer.

To find out dates and locations visit the Swim Safe website.