The danger of rip tides – and how to safeguard against them

The deaths by drowning this summer have highlighted the risks of swimming in open sea. The death this week of a woman who drowned when wading into the sea to save her young sons on a Cornish beach is the latest in a summer that has been punctuated by drownings, at home and abroad. Twelve British people, seven of them children, have drowned in the past month alone. It is too early to say whether they have been more numerous than usual, and different types of incidents are being conflated, but what is certain is that the rip current that appears to have caused the tragic accident in Cornwall should sound the alarm to all of us who blithely enter the sea unaware of its dangers. A rip current occurs where water receding from a beach finds a channel through which it can make a more rapid exit. Water rushes through that channel at speeds of up to 8ft per second, too fast for even the most adept swimmer to combat. Some rip currents, called “topographically controlled rips” and shaped by headlands or groynes, are permanent features. Potentially more dangerous are rips that occur on open beaches when water cuts a channel in a sandbar. Their unpredictability can be deadly.

“Rips will move, and what may be a perfectly safe place one day will not be safe the next day,” says Peter Dawes, head of lifeguards at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He says you can sometimes see a rip from an elevated position overlooking a beach – the absence of waves breaking is one sign; white water on either side of a current another – but that in choppy conditions they are hard even for experts to spot.

If you are caught by a rip current and there is no lifeguard on the beach, don’t panic and don’t try to swim against it. Swim laterally at first to get out of the rip, which is likely to be fairly narrow. Once you are out of the current, then swim for the shore. If you are not a strong swimmer or if you find you are making no progress, tread water and try to attract attention.

But why risk it? Dawes says the key is prevention. Only swim on beaches with lifeguards (fewer in number now the school holidays are over); quiz them about prevailing conditions; only swim between the safety flags; never swim alone; and don’t let youngsters go in by themselves, even in shallow water. As he points out, we may be on an unfamiliar stretch of coast engaging in a once-a-year activity, so it’s absurd not to take precautions. Go to the Guardian website…

Olympic diver launches bid to prevent drowning

Last week, British Olympic diver Nick Robinson-Baker launched a national campaign to reduce drowning and promote water safety. Nick, who became a lifesaver when he rescued fellow diver Monique Gladding from the water at a World Cup meeting in Russia last year, is spearheading the campaign by the Royal Lifesaving Society UK (RLSS UK).
The official launch of Water Safety Awareness Week, (which takes place June 16 to 24), comes following research revealed last month by Kellogg’s and the ASA that over a third of children are leaving primary school unable to swim 25 metres unaided. This is despite swimming being a statutory element of the National Curriculum and drowning being the third most common cause of accidental death in children.
RLSS UK hopes its national campaign will help to reduce the annual number of accidental deaths from drowning in the UK. Latest available figures, from the National Water Safety Forum, show that there were 420 accidental deaths from drowning in 2010 – one nearly every 17 hours.
Nick, aged 24, who is competing at London’s 2012 Games, said:
“Every drowning is a tragedy. With an average of 400 accidental deaths from drowning each year more needs to be done to raise awareness of how to be safe in, on and near water. I hope that this campaign can help to educate people about the potential dangers. This isn’t about telling people to stay away from water, but about knowing how to enjoy water safely, understand the risks and what to do in the event of a problem. I had a real wake-up shock when I had to rescue Monique last year. You never think that you’ll need to save someone in the water, and the truth is that I didn’t have a clue what to do, adrenaline took over, and luckily it turned out ok. Now I’d like to do whatever I can to convince people to become more aware that accidents in the water do happen and we should all know what to do if the worst does happen.”
Key safety tips being promoted during Water Safety Awareness Week include understanding beach flags and signs, taking time to check tide times and ensuring that you won’t be cut off when the tide comes in. At inland water sites, they include only swimming at lifeguarded lakes and always wearing a buoyancy aid when on the water.
Find out more about the campaign at the Water Safety Awareness Week website and follow the Week on Twitter at #WSAW2012. Find out more about the ASA’s School Swimming Manifesto and what you can do to raise awareness of learning to swim, go to the website…

Bangladesh Sport Relief video on Youtube highlights the problem

Fifty children a day die due to drowning in Bangladesh. Help support a project which teaches children to swim, a valuable skill that saves lives. The money you donate to support Sport Relief will help people living unimaginably tough lives, both on your doorstep in the UK, and across the world’s poorest countries. Watch the Bangladesh Sport Relief video on Youtube… 

Be water wise on the hottest September weekend for 100 years

As the country prepares to bask in beautiful weather on the hottest September weekend for a century, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is urging people to stay safe in and around water.

Traditionally, the number of accidental drownings peaks during spells of warm weather, particularly when the warm conditions coincide with weekends. And with summer having been particularly disappointing this year, many people will be looking to make the most of this unseasonably hot weather.

Read more on the RoSPA website…

Maritime and Coastguard Agency diving report released

HM Coastguard responded to 66 decompression illness and 32 rapid ascent incidents in 2010 according to the MCAs newly published diving report. Medical emergencies accounted for 32 incidents. The total number of incidents has increased in the last two years, sadly, including 12 fatalities.

Buoyancy remains a problem with many incidents of divers losing control of buoyancy, whilst at depth, on ascent and on the surface. The deployment of delayed marker buoys at depth and loss of buoyancy control whilst wearing a dry suit were significant causes of loss of buoyancy control. The report advises that divers familiarise themselves with new or different gear before planning deep dives and that they always dive within their limits.
Coastguard diving liaison officers based all over the UK support local diving and organise events in their own areas, to prevent accidents and support safe diving practices. Divers are welcome to visit or contact coastguard stations to obtain the latest safety advice.

Ken Bazeley the Maritime and Coastguard Agency national diving liaison officer offers this advice to divers:

Make sure that you’re adequately qualified and experienced for your diving plan, keeping a close eye on weather and sea conditions, and making your personal fitness a top priority for safe diving.

You can view the report at:

UK’s work on drowning prevention to be showcased at global event

A speaker from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will be among those taking to the podium at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention next week. The conference, being held in Vietnam from May 10-13, aims to focus world attention on the global burden of drowning and how it can be reduced. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 388,000 drowning deaths worldwide each year. In the UK, drowning is among the leading causes of accidental death; in 2009, 405 people died from accidents or natural causes in water across the country.

Read more on the RoSPA website…

Be Water Wise! during the warm Easter weekend

As much of the country continues to bask in warm weather, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has put together some safety tips for families who will be out and about by water this Easter. Traditionally, the number of accidental drownings peaks during spells of warm weather, particularly when the warm conditions coincide with weekends or school holidays. Inland waters, such as rivers, lakes, lochs, canals and reservoirs, are the most common locations for accidental drowning.

Read more on the RoSPA website…

New Water Incident Database reveals 405 deaths across UK

More than 400 people died from accidents or natural causes in water across the UK in 2009, according to the first report from a new incident database.

WAID (the WAter Incident Database) was developed by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) to enable greater detail and volume in the collection of data on fatal and non-fatal drowning, other water-related deaths and injuries, and near misses.

Of the 405 fatalities in 2009, more than half (213) came as a result of incidents in inland waters, which include rivers, lakes, lochs, reservoirs, canals and ponds. Nearly a quarter (99) happened at the coast or in a harbour, dock, marina, or port, while one in seven deaths (57) happened further out at sea. There were 19 deaths as a result of incidents in baths, five in swimming pools and one involving a water container. Eleven people died in places that are not usually watercourses, for example flooded areas.

Under – 19’s accounted for 59 of the fatalities, of whom 14 died as a result of incidents in rivers (predominantly teenagers), seven in baths (mostly 0-2 year olds) and six in ponds.

Deaths happened during a wide variety of water-based activities. Forty-eight of those who died were swimming at the time of the incident, 27 were angling and 20 were sub aqua diving. The most commonly-reported activity, however, which accounted for 78 fatalities, was someone entering the water while walking or running, for example to cool off or by falling. A further 17 fatalities happened after motor vehicles entered water.

Saturday was the most common day and August the most common month for fatalities to occur.

David Walker, a member of the NWSF and operations manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “As the figures for 2009 sadly reveal, drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in the UK. WAID will greatly enhance our understanding of water-related incidents that claim lives and cause injuries across the UK each year. Managing water risks is all about a balance between giving people freedom to make informed choices about how to enjoy water and the impact those choices have on society in general. By providing better information, WAID will assist in striking that balance and enable us to develop more effective prevention work. Working together to collect and share data means WAID members and communities will be able to better manage risks than if they worked alone.”

WAID was developed by NWSF members, including: national partners – British Waterways, British Sub Aqua Club, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RoSPA and Royal Life Saving Society; sports governing bodies; and regional and local organisations, including Cornwall Council. It has been developed in partnership with the Department for Transport.

The full report is available to download in PDF format. More information about the WAID system can be found here.