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Lifesaving charities team up for festive dip advice

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) have joined forces to appeal for the public to be extra careful over Christmas and the New Year if they decide to go for a festive dip.

RNLI lifeboat stations and RLSS UK affiliated lifesaving clubs, in common with many other organisations, have cancelled their hugely popular festive dips due to Covid-19 restrictions and the need to ease demands on all emergency and health services. But both lifesaving charities are urging anyone who does venture into the sea or other open water locations over Christmas and New Year to be aware of the risks and enjoy themselves as safely as possible.

The RNLI has been busy responding to incidents involving swimmers this winter.

Earlier this month the volunteer crew at Portishead in Somerset rescued a swimmer who had been in the sea for 80 minutes, while Sunderland RNLI pulled another to safety, after spotting him in the rough conditions thanks to his bright orange swimming cap and tow float.

The Coastguard has reported a 79.8%* increase in emergency call-outs for swimming related incidents year-on-year between January and November, compared to the same period in 2019.

Lee Heard, RLSS UK Charity Director, said:

‘While festive dips are an increasingly popular tradition with brave bathers in plummeting temperatures, we are concerned that with the cancellation of well organised and lifeguarded events combined with a rise in open water swimming participation this year that individuals may still choose to dip this festive period.

‘We simply urge swimmers to stay safe, be prepared and consider their actions on our already stressed emergency services, including the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews.’

Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water which is 15°C or below, with the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland at this time of year just 6-10°C - which also poses a risk of hypothermia, even for the most experienced of open water swimmers.

RNLI Water Safety Partner Samantha Hughes said: ‘No one goes into the water in the expectation of needing to be rescued but we are asking anyone considering going for a festive dip to understand the dangers and not take unnecessary risks so they can have a good time, safely.

‘We recommend checking with your doctor before trying a cold water dip for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.

‘It is important to respect the water and there are a number of things you can do to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time such as not swimming alone, staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards, which sounds obvious but is crucial to avoid any delayed effects of the cold and hypothermia.

‘The most important thing to remember is if you are in any doubt, stay out of the water and if you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call 999 or 112 immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’

The top safety tips for taking a festive dip are:

  • Be prepared – Check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height. Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink for when you come out of the water. Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock

  • Never swim alone – always go with a buddy, if possible, to a familiar spot and tell someone when you plan to be back

  • Acclimatise slowly – never jump straight in as this can lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming

  • Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float

  • Stay in your depth - know your limits including how long to stay in the water

  • Float to live - If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing

  • Call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard - if you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble call for help immediately

  • If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim

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