Last winter, while taking a dip off the Sunderland coastline, a group of open water swimmers had to call 999 after losing sight if one of their friends.
Fortunately the RNLI were able to deploy one of their vessels and rescue the casualty and bring them ashore.
Nick Ayers, RNLI Regional Water Safety Lead for the North and East, said: ‘We’ve seen a big increase in the number of people taking up dipping and open water swimming, and it’s amazing so many people are feeling the benefits of a new activity.
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"However, for many, this is their first experience of the sea in the colder winter months, so we’re asking everyone to be aware of risks before they enter the water, know how to keep themselves and others safe, and to respect the water.”
While the cold water can be initially invigorating, prolonged exposure can be extremely dangerous.
Nick said: “Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water that is 15°C or below, while swim failure and hypothermia can also pose a risk, especially at this time of year when the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland is just 6 to10°C.
‘With the sea temperatures still dropping and reaching their coldest around March, the effects of cold water, combined with weather conditions and any personal health issues should be taken seriously before venturing in. If it’s your first time in open water, we’d recommend you speak to your GP first, particularly for those with cardiac or underlying health conditions."
The Sunderland rescue was one of five life-saving incidents which took place last winter after swimmers got into difficulty.
RNLI Volunteers from Hayling Island in Hampshire saved two swimmers who were spotted clinging to a buoy, while in Sligo Bay, Ireland, four swimmers found themselves in trouble in large swells. One person was recovered by the RNLI, one made it ashore independently and two others were airlifted to safety by the Coast Guard helicopter.
Nick added: ‘There are a number of precautions you can take to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time. Avoid swimming alone, consider going with others or joining a group so you can look out for each other. Think about the depth of water and if you can, stay in your depth.
‘Also taking the right kit is essential. We’d recommend wearing a wetsuit to keep you warm and increase your buoyancy, together with a bright swim cap and tow float to make yourself visible to others and use in an emergency.
‘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 and ask for the Coastguard.
‘Even the well prepared can find themselves in difficultly but having the correct knowledge and equipment can save lives. Taking a means of calling for help with you, such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch with a whistle, really could be a lifesaver.’