East Anglia coastal deaths: RNLI says ‘fight your instincts, not the water’ to help stay alive

Sea Palling beach where a man drowned after being caught in a rip current.

Sea Palling beach where a man drowned after being caught in a rip current. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

New research commissioned by the RNLI has revealed that more than half of people in East Anglia would follow a potentially life-threatening instinct if they fell unexpectedly into water.

And now the charity which saves lives at sea is calling on the public to fight their instincts and remember one simple action – floating – that could save lives from drowning.

Coastal fatality figures released today (Thursday) by the RNLI show 10 people lost their lives around the East Anglian coast in 2016, with 40 per cent of those being people who didn't even intend to enter the water.

Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, explained: 'We often rely on our instincts but our instinctive response to sudden immersion in cold water – gasping, thrashing and swimming hard – is potentially a killer. It increases chances of water entering your lungs, increases the strain on your heart, cools the skin further and helps air escape from any clothing, which then reduces buoyancy.

'Although it's counter-intuitive, the best immediate course of action in that situation is to fight your instinct and try to float or rest, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60 to 90 seconds. Floating for this short time will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase.

'Floating is not an easy skill in cold open water but most people can float, and the air trapped in their clothes as they fall in should make it easier.'

The RNLI's national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, which is now entering its fourth year, is targeted at adult men, who account for 79% of the coastal deaths in East Anglia over the past five years.'

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Darren Lewis, RNLI Lifesaving Manager, said: 'The RNLI's volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards saved hundreds of people from near-fatal incidents in 2016 and rescued thousands more but, sadly, they aren't able to reach everyone. If people in danger in the water can help themselves initially by floating and regaining control of their breathing, they stand a much greater chance of surviving.

'Through our Respect the Water campaign, we want to start a national conversation about water safety – it could be the difference between life and death.'