Respect The Water

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Logo: RNLI - lifeboats

By Sam Johnson, National Water Safety Education Partner, RNLI.

Tragically, on average, around 400 people drown around the UK every year and a further 200 take their own lives on our waters. Many of these deaths are preventable.

float to live written in the sand on the beach (RNLI,

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) Water Safety Team was established in 2020 to focus and target its prevention work in areas that will help people before they get into difficulty in, on and around the waters of the UK and ROI. Working with partners, our fantastic team of staff and over 900 volunteers influence improved safety on and beside the water.

As restrictions have eased this spring, members of our team have been excited to get out and work again with pubs, cafés and other venues near to rivers help increase awareness amongst their teams of the risk posed to those close to the water and what to do should they see someone in trouble. Working alongside firefighters in London, Tyne & Wear, South Wales, Devon & Somerset and Hampshire, training has been delivered to keep members of the public safe. Read more.

person throwing a float during training (RNLI,

Nick Ayers RNLI Water Safety Lead in the North & East said: “We have worked closely with our colleagues at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to deliver the Waterside Responder programme since 2017. The program has already helped to save five lives in the local area.”

Last summer our Lifeboats launched an average of 42 times a day, with more people heading to what would usually be ‘quiet’ spots. With restrictions easing throughout the summer of 2020, the RNLI worked closely with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency in the UK to deliver a national Beach Safety Campaign. This work, delivered through a range of platforms was aimed at members of the public visiting the coast, specifically family groups. This campaign was followed up through the winter and into the spring of 2021.

More than ever, we need your help to reach the public with vital water safety messaging. We want to reach people while they are planning a trip, enroute to a location and most importantly while enjoying our beaches and coastline. For up to date videos to share with visitors via your social media channels, leaflets and imagery, please use the following link: Safety Resources. If you have any further questions or would like to be put in touch with a local member of the team, please contact

Alongside our campaign work, our team successfully launched a pilot volunteer initiative to help keep people safe – our Local Ambassador scheme. While people flocked to the beaches, local ambassadors were the additional eyes and ears where we needed them the most. Many waterside and coastal businesses operate in areas where they encounter water users on a regular basis and are well placed to be sharing water safety messages with their communities. So, we worked to equip these businesses with the information and resources to enable them to deliver water safety messages and to know what to do if they saw someone in trouble.

If you would like to learn more about how to become a local ambassador or if you know a local coastal business that may want to get involved in the scheme and support our lifesaving work, encourage them to find out more and sign-up today​.

phone in a waterproof pouch (RNLI,

In addition, we didn’t see the normal tail-off of activity in the autumn of 2020, particularly for open-water swimmers. With indoor pools closed for much of the year due to Covid-19, we saw an explosion of interest and participation in outdoor swimming and dipping with many people trying it for the very first time. To support those new to the sport, we worked with partners to develop a top tips video to support those new to the cold water.

RNLI Head of Water Safety Gareth Morrison said: ‘There are well-documented physical and mental health benefits of swimming in the sea, but it can also be very dangerous if you are unaware or under-prepared. The purpose of this video is to help you enjoy it safely.’

Swimming and other watersports aren't the only ways that people get into trouble at the coast. Getting cut off by the tide also contributes to a significant number of RNLI rescues every year. Because tide times and heights vary throughout the month, a beach that was clear yesterday at 5pm might be completely covered in sea at the same time today.

Tides have a reputation for being unpredictable, but really they follow a timetable more reliable than most trains! There are two different types: spring and neap.

Spring tides have greater depth range between high and low water, so at high tide the water comes in further up the beach.

Neap tides have less variation, so at high tide the water won't come in as far.

The UK and Ireland have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world.

To avoid getting cut off by the tide:

  • Before you head out, make sure it's safe. Check the tide tables.
  • While you're out, be aware of your surroundings and the tide's direction.

Michael Avril, RNLI regional water safety lead for Scotland said: “We’re asking people to be extra vigilant when visiting the coast. Remember to check the tide times before you go but also keep an eye on your surroundings. If you've walked round to another cove at low tide, or walked around an outcrop of rocks, the water can soon block your way back as the tide turns. If the cove you're in doesn't have steps or access of its own, you could be in trouble. If you find yourself or spot others in trouble, call 999 and ask for the coastguard straight away. Stay calm and don’t try and wade through the water as this could be dangerous."

To help us inform members of the public of the risks of tidal cut off, please find the attached editable A4 pdf to help share these key messages with visitors to your sites or local area.

As we now move into the warmer, summer months, with restrictions having eased and overseas travel for holidays less accessible, we’re seeing a busy summer of staycations. Therefore, it is as important as ever that members of the public know how to keep themselves and their families safe when in, on and around the water. Please familiarise yourself with the following key messages and help us to keep members of the public safe this year.

Visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags. Even though I’m experienced in the water, I still always go to a lifeguarded beach. I know how well the lifeguards are trained and it is reassuring to know that if something does happen, they’re on hand to help.

Please share a digital link to the following downloadable leaflet with visitors to your site or local area.

Always take a phone. Everyone has a phone nowadays. Make sure you take it with you just in case something goes wrong. A waterproof phone pouch will protect your phone when you’re out in the elements, you can hang it round you neck and it’s there ready if you need it.

Last August, our crews were called to Alfie, a 17 year old boy in trouble off the Llŷn peninsula in Gwynedd. Fortunately, he knew to take a mobile phone with him and was able to call for help.

If you get into trouble, Float. If you’re in trouble in the water, floating on your back could save your life. Practice the ‘FLOAT’ position and teach your friends and family how to float too. Here’s an instructional video ‘How to Float’.

Call 999 in an Emergency. If you’re at the coast and you see someone in trouble, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. Get the call in immediately, don’t wait, every second counts.

More about the RNLI

We’re a charity that saves lives – since 1824, we have saved over 143,000 lives and rely on public donations. We have 248 Lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland that offer a 24/7 lifeboat service and our Lifeguards patrol over 240 beaches.

The RNLI is helping other lifesaving organisations to tackle drowning in their own countries. Through work such as supporting lifeguard training in Bangladesh the RNLI and its partners are putting lifesaving into the hands of local communities.

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Posted On: 25/05/2021

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