Safety Spotlight - Lana's got the swimming 'bug'
At the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and HM Coastguard, we’re an active
bunch. We love our coasts and many of us enjoy spending time at the beach and
in the sea.
For Lana, who is based in our Southampton HQ in the Commercial and Programmes Directorate, sea swimming is her passion. And she’s told us why she loves it and how she ensures she lives to tell the tale and do it all over again:
“I learnt to swim at school, but as an adult was never that fussed going to a pool. But when I worked at the University of Southampton we had a pool on campus, so I started going a few times a week on my lunchbreak to get away from the desk and clear my mind. Then the pandemic hit, which meant no swimming at all. One night after work in August last year, my husband and I went down to Weymouth to swim in the sea. I realised just how much I’d missed swimming, and being in the open water felt so much nicer than being in the pool.
Advice on open water swimming - tides and currents
“Being a keen runner, I knew plenty of
friends who had done triathlons and so I turned to them for advice for what to
do to take up open water swimming. One friend has swum around the Isle of Wight
(80 something miles, as you do), and so I figured he must know what he was
doing. He taught me how to read tide timetables, the difference between neaps
and springs, and said most importantly to get a tow float for visibility to other
"I also invested in a waterproof phone case (let’s face it, mainly for selfies!) so that if I got in trouble in the water, I could call for help. He also taught us how to look for currents and changes in the water, and gave us some much-needed local knowledge of the Southampton waters and the fact we have a double high tide.
"I didn’t quite realise though that I’d catch the swimming bug. During lockdown, a few of my friends and I swam together as our way of switching off our minds from all that was going on in the world, and to get together to have some fun. We swam throughout winter in just our cossies, some wetsuit boots and gloves; the coldest day was 3.5 degrees sea temperature with 0 degrees air temperature. We’d often get amusing calls out from walkers asking us if we’d lost our minds swimming along in bobble hats.
"I’ve loved the feeling of the water supporting you, and no two days in the water are the same. You also sometimes see things you don’t expect, like finding a randomly submerged car! I’ve learnt when to sometimes sadly decide not to swim as the conditions are just too dangerous; but also enjoyed being bounced about by waves on a warm day.
"Working for the MCA has made me appreciate the brilliant work that the Coastguard do to rescue people who get into difficulties at sea, and I’ve always made sure that my friends and I are sensible when we swim – I know I wouldn’t live it down having to call out work!”
Stats and Facts
Did you know that 85% of drownings happen at open water sites? Or that 631 people lost their lives in water-related fatalities in the UK during 2020? Many more survive but face life-changing injuries including heart attacks and strokes from cold water shock.
The impact of these deaths and injuries can be far-reaching, affecting whole families, friends, communities, work life and finances. Make sure that you and your loved ones are not literally dying for a dip, by soaking up a few safety tips so you’re prepared to enjoy your swim and minimise the risks.
To the rescue
Just this week, our coastguard teams and fellow emergency services have gone to the rescue of many people in trouble in the water including:
It was the third call out of the day for Prawle Point Coastguard rescue team (CRT) when a swimmer was in difficulty last weekend at Slapton Sands. Luckily as the teams arrived, he’d been carried back to the beach by the tide. The CRT, the RNLI and a Coastguard search and rescue helicopter had arrived to help, and with the risk of secondary drowning, the man was airlifted to hospital.
Many people had
stopped their cars on the nearby roads to watch the scene, and the CRT and RNLI
teams joined forces to help move traffic on as the helicopter take off was
being delayed. Tentsmuir Beach in Fife: Multiple emergency services rescued
three children from the water on Thursday, with strong ebbing tides, pulling
them out to sea. One of the children had ingested large amounts of sea water
and was airlifted to hospital. Just the day before, we went to the aid of 12
people who’d been paddling when two of them ended up out of their depth before
being rescued, given first aid at the scene and taken to hospital to be checked
Harbour: After enjoying ‘one too many’ a man slipped and fell into the harbour.
Fortunately, he was able to self-recover and the harbour master called the
emergency services to check him over.
Pier: Three young males were spotted by members of the public entering the
water under the pier and not coming out…piers and jetties can be really dangerous
with strong currents that can pull you under challenging even the strongest of
swimmers. Thankfully the youngsters made it out safely just before the emergency
services teams arrived.
Prepare for safe swimming. Top Tips
|Same place. Same day. This dramatic montage shows how quickly the weather can change around our coasts in just a few hours. Watch out for weather, winds, tides and currents. |
Thanks for sharing the images: Wave Surf School
- Check tides, weather and wind watch out for rips
- Go with a buddy, tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be
- Choose your spot (ideally a lifeguarded beach)
- Don’t go in after consuming alcohol
- Equip yourself: wear a wetsuit, a brightly coloured swimming hat, take a tow float
- Acclimatise to the water temperature, never jump or dive straight in, even in summer the water is cold enough to cause cold water shock
- Stay in touch: Always take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch so you can call for help, a whistle and perhaps an app like RYA SafeTRX
- Swim within your safety limits
- If in difficulty, lay back, try to relax and float to live
always on call, 24/7 every day of the year. We’re there to send all the emergency
services to help if anyone is in difficulties around our coasts. All you need
to do is call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. We’ll look after the rest.
RNLI, open water swimming: https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/open-water-swimming
Dr Heather Massey of Portsmouth University, senior lecturer and researcher in Extreme Environments Laboratory talks about cold water swimming: what to wear outdoor swimming + when to get out with Dr Heather Massey
Swim safety and cold water shock: http://hmcoastguard.blogspot.com/2021/03/safety-spotlight-sea-swimming-and-cold.html?q=water
Our friends at the RLSS have lots of tips to help you swim safely: https://www.rlss.org.uk/pages/category/open-water-safety-tips
At all times of year UK waters are cold enough to produce cold water shock which can lead to death by drowning or life changing injuries. Don’t let it be you: https://www.rlss.org.uk/cold-water-shock-the-facts