Float to live says RNLI after 30 die in Scottish seas


A new research from lifeboat charity RNLI reveals Scots don't know the best way to stay alive in cold water

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25th May 2017 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Scots don't know that floating rather than swimming is more likely to save their life if they fall into cold water.

Research from charity Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) has found six in ten people would do the wrong thing if they fell into cold water suddenly – they would try to swim, panic, or remove clothing.

However, the water safety charity said all of these reactions would actually increase the likelihood of drowning.

RNLI rescued hundreds of people in Scottish waters last year, but 30 people still lost their lives around the coast of Scotland in 2016 and more than half of those hadn’t intended to enter the water.

The charity's recent research has discovered that people simply don't know that floating is the best way to stay alive. 

Its Respect the Water campaign now aims to increase awareness of live saving water safety techniques.

Mike Garfitt, RNLI area lifesaving manager in Scotland, said: “The RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards saved hundreds of people from near-fatal incidents in 2016 and rescued thousands more but, sadly, they aren’t able to reach everyone. If people in danger in the water can help themselves initially by floating and regaining control of their breathing, they stand a much greater chance of surviving.

“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.”

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

The effects of cold water shock should pass within 60 to 90 seconds, so the important thing is to do as little as possible and stabilise your breathing during that period, at which point it is much safer to try to swim to safety or call for help. 

RNLI’s recent research into people’s knowledge of water safety revealed just 13% of respondents in Scotland knew about a recommended first course of action. Just 4% saying tread water and none knowing specifically to float. Others said they would stay calm (6%) or look for something to hold on to (3%).

Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth, is backing the RNLI campaign.

He 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 helps 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 or rest, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60–90 seconds. Floating for this short time will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase.”

For those who are planning to go into the water, the best way to stay safe is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags, which is the area most closely monitored by the lifeguards. And if you see someone else in danger in the water, fight your instinct to go in and try to rescue them yourself – instead call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

The RNLI campaign is targeted at adult men, who account for over three-quarters (78%) of the coastal deaths in Scotland over the past five years, and 73% of last year’s Scottish coastal fatalities, although the advice is relevant to anyone who goes near the water.

The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and on catch-up TV channels. The RNLI is asking people to visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater where they will find information on the effects of cold water shock and floating techniques. On social media search #RespectTheWater.