With summertime here in the Northern Hemisphere, people everywhere are flocking to beaches and waterways to get wet, cool down and get exercise. However, Mother Nature can be a fickle parent, and humans are not naturally aquatic animals. When waves make the water rocky or when swift undertows pull people into frigid waters, what can they do to save their lives?

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) wants to educate the public on precisely what to do in such a situation. While no one relishes the thought of needing to save themselves from the icy Atlantic, RNLI aims to prepare them if they must. The inspiring stories of survivors prove its mission is working.

What Is the Initiative All About?

RNLI instituted the “Respect the Water” campaign six years ago to empower people to save their lives if they were caught in icy aquatic conditions suddenly. The campaign also focuses on educating people on how to manage if they are pulled out to sea by a dangerous riptide, which can carry even Olympic-grade swimmers far from shore.

The initiative marks one of many public safety initiatives undertaken by RNLI. Its website is rich in resources about water safety for anyone heading out to the shore. By building awareness, RNLI believes the public will learn first and foremost about the dangers of the water and take precaution when heading out, although it also wants to educate the public on what to do to prevent an accident from turning fatal.

Even among those who live to go to the beach in the summertime, water can create a powerful phobia. Statistics show that a full 46 percent of Americans are afraid to even swim in the deep end of a pool, and many in England and Ireland feel similarly. This phobia equates to panic when the individual is swept into the water unexpectedly, causing the person to flail about wildly, exhausting their energy reserves. For this reason, RNLI urges people to remain calm and float if they are swept away.

Cold water proves dangerous even to those who are strong swimmers. When the body enters the frigid ocean, the shock causes difficulty breathing and increases the chance of inhaling water. Experts recommend trying to synchronize breathing with the rise and fall of the waves to decrease the risk of inhaling water into the lungs, which can lead to fatal pneumonia even if the unfortunate soul survives his dunking.

Interestingly, men are actually more likely to drown than women, and more than 80 percent of drowning deaths involve those of the male gender. Men are more likely to rate themselves as strong swimmers despite never taking formal lessons, and are more likely to participate in high-risk behaviors like swimming alone and using alcohol while in or on the water.

How to Stay Safe in the Water

Staying calm and floating can help if someone is swept away. What precautions should people take before heading to the shore this summer? Follow these tips:

  1. Swim with others. Always practice the buddy system around water. Even if they do not go in the water themselves, having a partner on shore who will notice if someone in their party is missing can save a life.
  2. Charge phones. For good measure, people should take a backup charger if they have one. All accident victims need medical evaluations, and calling for help is necessary.
  3. Know limits. Swimming in the ocean is not at all like swimming in a pool. Waves, currents and undertows overpower the strongest swimmers.
  4. Watch footing. If walking near water, people should be aware of slippery conditions that could lead to falling in.
  5. Wear a life jacket. If boating, always wear a bright orange life vest. This increases visibility if submersion occurs and helps people float.

Stay Water Safe and Stay Alive

Falling into water or being swept out to sea leads to far too many deaths annually. By learning proper safety around water, people can enjoy the beach this summer without fearing doing so will lead to tragedy.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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