Respect the Water

North of England coastal fatality figures released: RNLI warns ‘treat water with respect’


Coastal fatality figures1 released today (9 June) by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) show 22 people lost their lives around the north England coasts last year. The number of near-fatal incidents was even higher, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the north of England saving 62 lives in 20152.


The figures are released as the charity enters the third year of its national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, which aims to halve accidental coastal deaths by 2024.


The campaign is targeted at adult men, who account for by far the most incidents. The five-year figures show 122 people have died around the north England coasts since 2011. Between 2011 and 2014, men3 accounted for three-quarters (75%) of the deaths. Last year, 68% were men.


A surprising trend is that around half of the coastal deaths each year are people who never planned to enter the water. Of the 122 deaths over the five-year period, 48% did not intend to get wet – people taking part in activities such as coastal walking and running. In fact, walking and running accounted for over one-third (34%) of the coastal deaths in the North of England over the past five years.


General leisure use of the water, including swimming and jumping in, accounted for over one-quarter (27%) of the coastal fatalities since 2011. Last year, swimming and general leisure use accounted for 36% of the fatalities around the north England coasts.


The RNLI is aiming to halve the number of coastal deaths by 2024 and is this year renewing its warning to people about the dangers of cold water, slips and falls, rip currents and waves.


Helen Williams, RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for the north of England, says:


‘People need to treat the water with respect – it’s powerful and unpredictable. Each year RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards save hundreds of lives but, sadly, not everyone can be saved. We lose an average of 24 lives around the north England coasts each year and the real tragedy of the situation is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.


‘Cold water is a real killer. People often don’t realise how cold our seas can be – even in summer months the sea temperature rarely exceeds 12oc, which is low enough to trigger cold water shock. If you enter the water suddenly at that temperature, you’ll start gasping uncontrollably, which can draw water into your lungs and cause drowning. The coldness also numbs you, leaving you helpless – unable to swim or shout for help.


‘The fact that so many of the people who die at the coast each year never planned to enter the water suggests people are also not taking enough care along the coastline itself. We’re warning people to stay away from cliff edges, particularly where there is slippery, unstable or uneven ground; stick to marked paths and keep an eye on the water – watch out for unexpected waves which can catch you out and sweep you into the water.


‘If you’re planning to get into the water be aware that, even if it looks calm on the surface, there can be strong rip currents beneath the surface, which can quickly drag you out to sea. The sea is powerful and can catch out even the strongest and most experienced swimmers.’


UK-wide, the number of lives lost at the coast reached a five-year high last year, with 168 lives lost. The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and, for the first time, on catch-up TV channels.


The charity is asking people to visit where they will find information on how to stay safe.


1 Records from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) 2011–2015. RNLI has analysed the data using GIS software to plot and analyse incidents before inclusion in a specific coastal dataset (accident and natural causes only).

2 RNLI lifeboat incident data 2015 (exc call-outs to self-harm incidents) and RNLI lifeguard incident data 2015. 

3 All males except for those known to be under 18. Includes those where age was not recorded.