#RespectTheWater - As temperatures look set to soar across Ireland, new research commissioned by the RNLI reveals that more than a third of Irish people would follow their instincts and fight against the water if they unexpectedly fell into it.
The RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign is asking people to fight those instincts and remember one simple piece of advice – floating – that could save lives from drowning.
Sudden immersion in cold water puts people at severe risk of suffering cold water shock, which triggers the instinctive but life-threatening reaction to gasp uncontrollably and swim hard, which can quickly lead to drowning.
Research commissioned by the RNLI shows 39% of people in Ireland would follow this potentially life-threatening instinct if they fell into water, with 28% of respondents saying their immediate reaction would be to swim, while 3% said they would panic – two of the instinctive responses the RNLI is urging people to fight.
Others said they would remove clothing (5%); do nothing (1%); hold their breath (1%), and 1% said they would not know what to do. Only 8% of respondents knew specifically to float (4%) or tread water (4%).
The RNLI recently announced a partnership with the GAA for the Respect the Water campaign, which is being supported through their Healthy Clubs programme.
The charity invited some of the GAA’s top athletes and healthy club representatives to their training college in Poole and to Portsmouth University to experience the effect of cold water on the body.
One of those who attended was Noel Browne, Castlehaven GAA’s Healthy Clubs representative and well-known long-distance open water swimmer.
Noel has recently returned from swimming from the Gibraltar Straits, a major open water swim which he completed in five hours and 40 minutes.
Backing the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign, Noel said: “It can go against everything your body wants to do but resisting the urge to fight against the water when you fall in and just float, can save your life.
“I train hard for my swims and spend hours in the water all year round. I’ve seen the effects of cold water shock on people who were not acclimatised to the water and it can be frightening and overwhelming. Fighting against it increases the chances of water entering the lungs and puts a strain on your heart.
“The best course of action is to try to float or rest, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass within 60 to 90 seconds and let you regain control of your breathing, increasing your chances of survival.
“The recommended floating position is to lean back in the water and keep your airway clear. Keeping calm will help maintain buoyancy and moving as little as possible until you have control of your breathing will give you a much better chance of surviving until you can swim to safety, call for help, or continue to float until help arrives.”
RNLI lifesaving manager Gareth Morrison added: “The RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews launch to hundreds of calls for help every year in Ireland but, sadly, not everyone can be reached in time. If people are in danger in the water they can help themselves by floating and regaining control of their breathing.
“Through our Respect the Water campaign in partnership with the GAA, we want to start a national conversation about water safety. We’re asking people to remember this lifesaving advice and share it with others – it could be the difference between life and death. Each year an average of 28 people drown accidentally around the Irish coast.
“For those who are planning to go into the water and with the good weather coming out way, the best way to stay safe is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags. And if you see someone in danger in the water, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.”
The Respect the Water campaign will run throughout the summer on channels including cinema, outdoor, radio, online, and on catch-up TV channels. The cinema adverts are voiced by Irish actor Liam Cunningham.
Visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater for information on the effects of cold water shock and floating techniques.