Launch of pioneering initiative from Hampshire County Council, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the University of Portsmouth

In a unique collaboration between Hampshire County Council, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the University of Portsmouth, school children across Hampshire are to take part in a specially developed lesson to learn simple survival techniques for how to stay afloat and alive in the water

May 24 2019

‘Stay Afloat’ is a standalone, highly interactive lesson, developed by specialists at the RNLI, extreme environments expert, Professor Mike Tipton from the University of Portsmouth, and Local Authority teachers which will be available to all secondary school pupils from Year 8 to Year 11 in Hampshire from this term (summer 2019). The simple message is: Relax and float on immersion until your breathing is back under control - Float First. Pupils will also be taught about rip currents and tides, so they understand the potential dangers. 

Councillor Roz Chadd, the Executive Member for Education and Skills at Hampshire County Council, said: “We’re delighted to be launching this lesson which will help ensure that children and young people are better equipped to handle the potential dangers of open water swimming. By teaching simple survival knowledge and techniques across all Hampshire schools we aim to reduce the risk of accidental drownings.

“The idea for this initiative came from my colleague and former Member for Education, Councillor Peter Edgar, whose particular interest stemmed from his 30 years of involvement with Solent Sea Rescue. 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. But, even in summertime, cold water shock can kill. Add to this the unseen dangers of rip currents at the beach or fast running river water and the risks to this age group are too great to ignore.”

In 2018, RNLI lifeboats launched 320 times in Hampshire, 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, more than in the neighbouring counties of Dorset (13), West Sussex (10) and East Sussex (11).

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 important water safety message.”

The classroom-based lesson begins with a short film focusing on two potential life-threatening situations that teenagers might find themselves in – rip currents at the beach and cold water shock, which can be caused by jumping or falling into any body of water. 

The film is followed by a focused discussion which reinforces the advice for anyone who finds themselves in that situation: By floating rather than trying to swim out of trouble, exhaustion and panic leading to drowning can be avoided.

The initiative will be evaluated by the University of Portsmouth using a questionnaire which will test the pupils’ learning from the session. Professor 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.” 

Kings’ School, Winchester, has already incorporated the lesson in its curriculum.  Mrs Beth Chandler, Head of PSHE and Citizenship at Kings’ School said: 
“With half term around the corner and hopefully warm summer holidays ahead this year, many young people will be heading to beaches, rivers and lakes to swim or take part in water sports. By instilling this safety message in them now we hope that they will be able to help keep themselves safe, avoid problems and know what to do should they get into difficulties.” 

Read more about the Stay Afloat initiative here