Five tips to help stay safe swimming in the sea this summer

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The beach is the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer's day, but it is easy to get into trouble and the results can be catastrophic. - Credit: James Bass

The death of a woman in the waters off one of Norfolk's best-loved holiday beaches has bought the issue of sea safety into sharp focus.

While drownings are rare, particularly in the sea, the RNLI says it is easier than most people think to get into trouble and that there are common risk factors to be aware of.

Figures from WAID (the Water Incident Database) show that 277 people accidentally drowned in the UK in 2021.

130 of these were in the three summer months, including 63 in July alone.

But while 81 people accidentally drowned at the beach or on the coast, it is less than half the 168 who lost their lives in inland waters like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs which can be unexpectedly cold.

The RNLI has this advice:

Float to Live

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If you find yourself struggling in the water, or if you fall in unexpectedly, you should Float to Live.

Just lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float. Wait until you can control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety.

Wait a minute

When in cold water (anything below 15°C), your body can go into cold water shock.

If this happens, you lose control of your breathing and movement. Cold water shock also causes your heart rate and blood pressure to quickly increase, which can lead to cardiac arrest.

The average sea temperature around the UK is just 12°C. Inland waters like lakes, rivers, lochs and reservoirs can be colder - even in the summer.

However the initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute, so don’t try to swim straight away.

Be rip aware

Rip currents are powerful currents that run out to sea. They can quickly drag you away from the shore and into deep water.

They can be difficult to spot, and it’s easy to get caught out by them.

The best way to avoid rip currents is to choose a lifeguarded beach and always swim between the red and yellow flags.

If you do find yourself caught in a rip don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted.

The advice is to wade, not swim, if you can stand; swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore; and always raise your hand and shout for help.

Keep your phone charged

When you go to the beach, always carry a means of calling for help.

If you’re going in the water, you can carry your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. That way, if you find yourself or spot someone else in an emergency situation, you can get help. 

In a coastal emergency, call 999.

Know your flags

If you visit a lifeguarded beach, there will be flags to show you where it’s safe to swim.

If you’re planning to swim or bodyboard, stay between the red and yellow flags. For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards or other non-powered craft, go between the black and white chequered flag. You should not swim there.
If a red flag is flying, the water is dangerous. Do not enter the water under any circumstances.

New signs reminding people of the risks are being called for at Winterton after a woman in her 60s died while swimming on Sunday, July 25.

It is believed she entered the water close to the Little Tern reserve, and while there were people on the shore they lost sight of her and called the emergency services.

The woman, who is not believed to be from the Great Yarmouth area, was in the water for an hour and a half before she was spotted by a helicopter.

The circumstances surrounding her death are not known, and an investigation is underway.

It came on a day of multiple emergencies at sea, many involving inflatables. Because of the choppy seas anyone in the water would have been difficult to spot meaning it is always better to say with your your inflatable if you have been washed out, rather than swim to shore.