Stay afloat to stay alive

With the warm summer holidays ahead, many young people will be heading to beaches, rivers and lakes to swim or take part in water sports

Jul 26 2019

With more than 200 miles of coastline and 600 miles of navigable waterways, plus countless small streams, lakes and ponds, there are plenty of places throughout Hampshire where young people enjoy swimming and cooling off.

This year, students in Year 8 and above, the age when many will start to enjoy their independence, have been learning some simple survival techniques for how to ‘stay afloat and stay alive’ if they get into difficulties in the water.

Hampshire County Council joined forces with the RNLI and the University of Portsmouth in a unique collaboration to get these important water safety messages out to all the secondary schools in the County Council’s local authority area.

Experts advise that the average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12 degrees centigrade, and river and lakes colder, even in summer. Anything below 15 degrees can seriously affect breathing and movement.

The Stay Afloat lessons are about how to conserve energy and survive cold water shock. The simple message is: Relax and float on immersion until your breathing is back under control - Float First. Pupils are also being taught about rip currents and tides, so they understand the potential dangers.

Andrew Laws from the RNLI said: “Around 165 people lose their lives at the UK and Irish coasts each year, and over half never even planned to enter the water. In addition, many people lose their lives in inland waterways every year. The highest risk group for accidental drowning is males aged 15 to 29, which is why this lesson is designed for young people from 13 upwards. We’ve been pleased to work with the County Council in this way in a bid to reach thousands of young people and highlight this vital advice for staying safe in the water.”

The initiative will be evaluated by the University of Portsmouth using a questionnaire which will test the pupils’ learning from the session. Extreme environments expert, Professor Mike Tipton hopes to use the information gathered from the questionnaires to encourage a roll-out of the lesson to school children around the country. He said: “Most of the immersion incidents and deaths around the UK are caused by ignorance. This initiative should educate pupils about the dangers of immersion and how to avoid them. It is important we measure the efficacy of the lesson to make sure it is making a real difference and to help support the argument that every child in the UK should receive this lifesaving information – too many children are dying in water for the sake of one water safety lesson or assembly and a bit of knowledge.”

RNLI lifeboats launched 320 times in Hampshire in 2018, and beach lifeguards also helped hundreds of people throughout the busy summer season. Inland drowning is also a problem in Hampshire. Between 2010 and 2017, there were 15 inland water deaths in Hampshire,

Watch the video and read more about the Stay Afloat initiative.