Coastal fatality figures released by the RNLI show 31 people lost their lives around the north England coasts last year – but 61 per cent didn’t even set out to enter the water.
The number of near-misses was even higher, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the north of England saving 89 lives in 2014.
The figures are revealed as the RNLI launches its 2015 national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, warning people that our coastlines and waters can be dangerously unpredictable.
The charity is releasing two hard-hitting campaign films in cinemas across the UK and Ireland.
The five-year figures show an average of 24 die around the north England coasts each year. Of the 121 people who died over the past five years, over half (51 per cent) were taking part in activities like walking, running, climbing and boating and 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 per cent.
Swimming, jumping in and general leisure use accounted for 14 per cent of coastal fatalities over the five years; commercial activity 9 per cent (11) and angling 7 per cent.
Men are far more prone to getting into danger at the coast than women. Over two-third of deaths over the five-year period were men. Last year they accounted for 81 per cent 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 warning people – particularly adult men – to be aware of the dangers of the coastline, as well as the water itself.
RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for the north of England Michael Avril said: “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 at all 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 also warning people of the unpredictability 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.
UK-wide, 163 people died at the coast last year. The RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign, warning people of the dangerously unpredictable nature of our seas and coastlines, will run across the UK and Ireland during the summer, through advertising channels including cinema, outdoor, radio and online.
The charity is also running a number of tailored safety programmes, targeted at those who participate in the activities which account for a large number of 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.
Visit www.rnli.org/respectthewater or search #RespectTheWater on social media.