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Coastal deaths at five year high

The number of deaths at the UK coast has reached a five year high, with 168 people losing their lives, according to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Coastal fatality figures released today show the number of near-fatal incidents was high still, with the RNLI’s UK lifeboat crews and lifeguards saving 385 lives** in 2015.

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.
Last year saw an increase in the number of men losing their lives at the coast. Between 2011 and 2014 men have accounted for three-quarters (75 percent) of coastal deaths but, in 2015, this increased to 84 percent.

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A surprising trend is that around half of the people who die at the coast each year never planned to enter the water. Of the 168 deaths last year, over half (52 percent) did not intend to get wet – people taking part in activities such as coastal walking, running, climbing or angling. In fact, coastal walking and running accounted for over one-fifth (21 percent) of last year’s coastal deaths.

James Millidge, RNLI coastal safety manager, said: “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. Over 160 lives are lost at the UK coast 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 over half 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.”

**RNLI incident data 2015 – figures are for lifeboat stations based in the UK and exclude call-outs to self-harm incidents.  RNLI incident data 2015 – figures are for lifeboat stations based in the UK and exclude call-outs to self-harm incidents.

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