Scottish coastal deaths rise 63 per cent, sparking safety plea

Rescue services at the scene of a cliff fall in Dunbar. Picture: Jon Savage
Rescue services at the scene of a cliff fall in Dunbar. Picture: Jon Savage
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A TOTAL of 39 people lost their lives around Scotland’s coast last year – an increase of 63 per cent on the year before.

Shocking new figures show RNLI’s lifeboat crews, such as those based at Queensferry, rescued 953 people over the course of 2015 – saving 21 lives.

We’re warning people to stay away from cliff edges, particularly slippery, unstable or uneven ground; stick to marked paths and keep an eye on the water – watch out for unexpected waves which can sweep you into the water.

Mike Garfitt

It comes as the charity enters the third year of its national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, which aims to halve accidental coastal deaths by 2024.

Bosses hope to change attitudes by focusing on the behaviour of men, who accounted for a staggering 92 per cent of coastal deaths last year.

Queensferry-based Mike Garfitt, one of the RNLI’s community incident reduction managers, said people needed to treat the water “with respect”. But he admitted changes in behaviour were not going to happen over night.

He said: “[The water is] powerful and unpredictable. Each year RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards save hundreds of lives but, sadly, not everyone can be saved.

“We lose an average of 35 lives around Scotland’s coasts each year and the real tragedy is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.

“Cold water is a real killer. People often don’t realise how cold our seas can be – even in summer months the sea temperature rarely exceeds 12C, which is low enough to trigger cold water shock.

“If you enter the water suddenly at that temperature, you’ll start gasping uncontrollably, which can draw water into your lungs and cause drowning. The coldness also numbs you, leaving you helpless – unable to swim or shout for help.”

Of the 39 deaths last year, lifeboat bosses said 79 per cent were people who did not intend to get wet – such as those taking part in coastal walking, angling or commercial activity.

Running and walking accounted for more than one-fifth of deaths, while just ten per cent were related to swimming and other leisure pursuits.

A total of 173 lives have been lost around the coast of Scotland over the last five years.

Mr Garfitt said: “The fact that 79 per cent of the people who died at the coast last year never planned to enter the water suggests people are also not taking enough care along the coastline itself.

“We’re warning people to stay away from cliff edges, particularly slippery, unstable or uneven ground; stick to marked paths and keep an eye on the water – watch out for unexpected waves which can sweep you into the water.

“Our campaign is targeted at the individuals who are heading to the coast and can take more personal responsibility for their own safety – they should find out about the hazards, know what to do should they get into difficulty, and know what to do should they see someone else in danger.”

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk