Philip Smith and the RNLI

Philip Smith and the RNLI

On the 28th of June we welcomed back Philip Smith to tell us more about the work of the RNLI.

A national drowning prevention campaign run by the RNLI highlights the associated risks of drowning, how to avoid them and gives advice to keep you and those around you safe.

The 'Respect the Water' campaign is at the heart of their prevention work, which is aimed at promoting safety advice to all who visit the coast and inland waterways. The water is there to be enjoyed, but you should also recognise its dangers and never underestimate its power.

It is the goal of the RNLI to halve the number of 190 accidental deaths of drowning each year by 2024, its 200th birthday. The campaign aims to show those most at risk the potential dangers of water, to encourage them to reconsider their actions and adopt safer behaviour.

Current drowning figures show a clear gender divide, with men accounting for over two-thirds of those who die. So the campaign is primarily aimed at men, particularly those aged between 16 and 39 years, who are more likely to take risks, although the safety advice is just as relevant for anyone enjoying the water.

If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water try to float on your back to increase your chances of survival.While you float, you can regain control of your breathing and your heart rate can begin to steady. So, if you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, relax and float for up to 90 seconds – the duration it takes for cold water shock to disappear. In most cases clothing and footwear improves buoyancy during the first moments in the water - because it traps air between the layers when you fall in. Moving less helps the air stay trapped, helping you to float.

If you see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. Try to give them as much information as possible such as your location, how many people are in trouble and what is happening.

Cold water shock is triggered in water temperatures lower than 15⁰C – the average temperature of UK waters is 12⁰C. So even in the summer the water temperature is cold enough to cause cold water shock, which can steal the air from your lungs and leave you helpless in seconds.  Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow and heart rate is also increased. As a result the heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into the lungs.

This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of sea water to enter the lungs for a fully grown man to start drowning. You could die if you don't get medical care immediately.

In the UK, the majority of RNLI Lifeguard incidents involve rip currents. They are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches all across the world.

Rip currents are strong currents running out to sea which can travel up to 4.5 mph and can quickly drag people and debris away from the shallows of the shoreline and out to deeper water. Rip currents can be difficult to spot, but are sometimes identified by a channel of churning, choppy water on the sea's surface and the best way to avoid rips is to choose a lifeguarded beach where possible and always swim between the red and yellow flags, which have been marked based on where it is safer to swim in the current conditions. This also helps you to be spotted more easily, should something go wrong.

If you do find yourself caught in a rip current don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted. If you can stand, wade don’t swim. If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore. Always raise your hand and shout for help. If you see anyone else in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 and ask for the coastguard.

Philip pointed out that most airbeds out at sea were probably blown from the beach but all incidents have to be investigated. Also people often drown from trying to rescue their dogs from the sea or inland waters.

Around 400 people drown each year in the UK and a significant proportion of these drownings are related to the night-time economy, often involving the consumption of alcohol. This is largely because if someone finds themselves in difficulty in an environment that isn’t normally associated with bathing or water use, specialist help is often not readily available.

Through Throwline training, local community groups like bar staff, venue security staff, street cleaners and council workers are given the opportunity to understand the dangers of the local waterways and gain the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to be able to recover someone from the water and report the rescue.
Onsite training is given by qualified RNLI personnel – such as lifeguards, crew members or Flood Rescue team members – who are local to the signed up establishments. Throwlines and manuals are provided as part of the training, regular communication and feedback for those who are trained and are saving lives is encouraged.

Remember enjoy the water but stay safe!