RNLI urge festive swimmers to stay safe before they dive in

For thousands up and down the coast, a festive dip in the sea is part of a Christmas tradition.

Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 09:19 am
Updated Monday, 7th January 2019, 11:01 am
Last year's Boxing Day dip at Spittal. Picture by Ian Beresford

RNLI lifeboat stations, community groups and charities have organised dips from their local beaches.

Nick Ayers, RNLI Community Safety Partner, said: "The festive dip is now a firm family favourite in the calendar as many brave swimmers take the plunge year after year with their families and friends over the holidays.

"As the charity that saves lives at sea, we want to remind people that over winter the sea is at its coldest! We hope all enjoy the water, but are also aware of what do to if they or their fellow swimmers do get into trouble. Before going in, we urge people to remember the risks of cold water shock and what to do if it happens to them. The simple act of floating could save a life.

If you run straight into cold water you are more likely to suffer from cold water shock. The best way to avoid this is to wear a wetsuit. If this isn’t possible, walk into the sea slowly and stay shallow. This will allow your body time to acclimatise gradually.

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Cold water shock is a physiological response, which causes uncontrollable gasping. This increases the risk of you swallowing water and puts a strain on your heart- in extreme cases it can cause cardiac arrest. If you feel you this happening to you, fight your instinct to thrash around and swim hard, instead just lie back and float. The initial shock will pass within 60–90 seconds, and when you have regained control of your breathing, you can then try swimming to safety or calling for help. This skill will give you a far better chance of staying alive.

If you see someone else in trouble in the water, fight the instinct to go in yourself. Call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.

The RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, aims to raise awareness of key hazards like cold water shock, and lifesaving skills like floating. Find out more about how to float and about cold water shock by visiting www.RespectTheWater.com.

Nick added: ‘There are many local dips taking place at the coast over Christmas. I am taking part in the dip myself this year, making sure I’m part of an organised event and that I stay in a group. We encourage those who plan on taking part to join a scheduled event, as they will be in good company with other swimmers, as well as safety staff.’

Berwick's annual Boxing Day Dip takes place at 11am at Spittal Beach.