RNLI Warns Public To Respect Water

As Thames fatality figures are revealed

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Fatality figures1 released this week (24 July) reveal 15 people accidentally lost their lives in the River Thames last year. The number of near-misses was even higher, with 16 lives being saved and 344 people being rescued by the RNLI’s London lifeboat crews3.

The charity is launching a major drowning awareness campaign, Respect the Water, warning people to stay safe.

Over the past four years, a total of 34 people have accidentally died in the Thames. The figures show a vast gender divide, with adult men accounting for a staggering 82% of deaths in the river over this time.

It’s not only water-based activities which put people in danger. Over the four-year period, slips and falls while walking and running along the edge of the river accounted for 21% of the deaths.

Swimming and general leisure use of the water accounted for 18% of the fatalities, while one-third of the fatalities were people recovered from the water but whose reason for being in the river was unknown. For those entering the water, intentionally or otherwise, cold water shock is a significant danger. Despite warm summer air temperatures, the temperature of the Thames is cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock – the average temperature of the Thames is just 12degrees Celcius , but cold water shock can set in at any temperature below 15degrees.

It causes uncontrollable gasping, which draws water into the lungs and can lead to drowning. The RNLI is warning people to be aware of the effects of cold water shock and to acclimatise gradually if getting in to the water.

The charity, which saves lives at sea but also has four lifeboat stations on the tidal Thames (namely Gravesend, Tower, Chiswick and Teddington), is launching its Respect the Water campaign, highlighting the risk of drowning around the coasts of the UK, including the tidal reaches of the River Thames.

Nine locations around the UK have been chosen for the Respect the Water campaign activity, with Kingston-upon-Thames among them. Targeted safety advice specific to the Kingston and surrounding Thames area will be on display. It will include outdoor posters and displays, radio and online, as well as pint glasses and bar runners printed with safety advice in selected riverside pubs. The RNLI will also have a cubic metre of water – weighing one tonne – on display, to help people realise how heavy a relatively small volume of water is.

Andrea Corrie’s 19-year-old son James drowned in the Thames after becoming separated from friends after a night out in Kingston. As part of the RNLI campaign, Andrea is working with the RNLI to share James’ story, as a warning to others about the potential dangers of the river. His story will be printed on bespoke pint glasses, which will be distributed in selected bars along the riverside.

Andrea said: ‘James went missing after his friends split into groups to get taxis home on a warm summer’s night in July 2005. He was not especially familiar with the area and it appears that he simply lost his balance and fell into the water. Despite his being a strong and confident swimmer, it is thought that the combined effects of alcohol and cold water shock quickly led to loss of life. He was recovered three days later.

‘Nine years on, James is greatly missed by all who knew him. As his mother, I can only emphasise the importance of respecting the water. The figures speak for themselves and it is evident that a casual approach to the power of water doesn’t work. Sadly it is too late for James but I hope that by sharing his story, people will stop and think before getting themselves into difficulties.

‘I support the RNLI in their aim to be proactive rather than reactive; their campaign will undoubtedly prevent further needless loss of life.’

Guy Addington, the RNLI’s Coastal Safety Manager in the south east, offers the charity’s key safety advice for the Thames:

‘We’re trying to make people, particularly men, realise that they are at risk from drowning if they don’t follow some basic but important safety advice. Of course we want people to enjoy the river but we want them to understand there are risks, and that they should not underestimate the power of the water.

‘Thames water is cold year-round – not many people realise this. If you enter the water, intentionally or otherwise, you are at risk of cold water shock, which seriously impairs your ability to swim, and causes uncontrollable gasping, which can draw water into your lungs. Although you might want a few drinks in the sun by the riverside, remember that alcohol and water don’t mix, so if you have a drink, stay clear of the river’s edge and don’t enter the water.

‘Anyone walking or running along the edge of the river should stick to marked paths and not go too close to the edge. People should also be aware that the currents in the Thames are very strong and the water flows very fast, so you can quickly get swept away if you go in the water. Anyone thinking of jumping in should also think twice because they don’t know what’s under the water, or how deep it is.’

England rugby star, James Haskell, is supporting the campaign. He said: ‘As a rugby player, I train to be as strong as I can be. But I know from experience, that even I’m no match for the strength of the water. This campaign isn’t telling people not to go into the water – in fact, quite the opposite. The water is a great place to have fun and relax in the summer. This is about being smart and safe when you’re there. Water is the opponent that never tires, so make sure you’re never put to the test.’

Nationally, an average of 160 people die at the coast (including tidal Thames) each year – that’s more than the number killed in cycling accidents. The RNLI is aiming to halve this number by 2024. The nine campaign locations are: Portsmouth, Brighton, Margate, Clacton, Kingston-on-Thames, Blackpool, Cardiff Bay, Newquay and Queensferry.

July 25, 2014