RNLI reminds swimmers and dippers of cold water risks after five lives saved in NI last winter

While cold water swimming can be a most enjoyable pastime, but you should stay aware of the risks and follow the necessary safety measures to avoid getting into danger

By Joanne Savage
Friday, 4th February 2022, 11:08 am
The RNLI has issued expert advice on how to stay safe while enjoying a swim in the water this winter. It is important to remain aware of the dangers and take precautions to prevent cold water shock
The RNLI has issued expert advice on how to stay safe while enjoying a swim in the water this winter. It is important to remain aware of the dangers and take precautions to prevent cold water shock

The RNLI is urging anyone taking part in open water swims and dips to be aware of the risks after revealing five people are alive today after being rescued in swimming related incidents last winter.

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 Ireland and the UK is just 6 to 10°C.

Last winter, the RNLI saved the lives of five swimmers and helped a further 12 back to safety.

In the UK, one of those saved was a sea swimmer who was struggling to get back ashore as the tide had turned.

The alarm was raised by other swimmers and as the lifeboat arrived the swimmer was struggling to stay afloat, drifting in and out of consciousness and extremely cold.

Volunteers also saved two swimmers who were spotted clinging to a buoy, while a group of swimmers called 999 after losing sight of one of their friends who was then saved by the RNLI.

Kevin Rahill, RNLI water safety lead 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.

“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’.

‘With 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.

“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.”

Rahill added: “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.”


1) 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 and remember that wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of you suffering cold water shock.

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

3) Acclimatise slowly – never jump straight into the water, as this can lead to cold water shock - walk in slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming.

4) Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float.

5) Stay in your depth - know your limits including how long to stay in the water and swim parallel to the shore.

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

7) If you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble call for help immediately by dialling 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.

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

For the latest RNLI safety advice on a range of activities visit: https://rnli.org/safety.

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