The tragic death of three people by drowning over the weekend emphasises the inherent danger of water-based activities and the need for continuing personal care and public education. Water safety measures, involving life boats, beach lifeguards and legislation have led to a significant reduction in fatalities during recent years and there has also been a fall in the number of suicides by drowning. Death can strike even the most experienced swimmers and four-out-of-five fatalities are male. As with road deaths, alcohol is frequently a contributory factor.
Death by drowning attracts significant media attention while the work done by RNLI volunteers and lifeguards in preserving life can go unsung. More than 100 people lose their lives every year but four times that number are saved by lifeboat crews and beach lifeguards. Further reductions could be achieved if marine and inshore pleasure craft users wore lifejackets as a matter of course and had their vessels safety-checked. Half of all deaths around the coast involve capsized pleasure craft. Lifejackets should also be worn by shore anglers who are at risk of being swept into the sea by rogue waves.
Changing the mindset of all those involved in commercial and casual fishing, at sea and in inland waters, takes time. But progress is being made. Fine weather and soaring temperatures bring different challenges. Young people are particularly vulnerable when they swim in very cold rivers and at unsupervised locations. The availability of working life belts can save lives in those instances. But personal caution and an awareness of the dangers involved are more important in terms of risk reduction. The same holds true for swimmers, body-boarders and surfers who may be caught up in tide rips.
Water is a wonderful resource and we are blessed with an abundance of coastal and inland facilities. The weather has been particularly good so far this summer and a return to high temperatures is predicted. In enjoying those “lazy, hazy days”, swimmers and boat users should take particular care.