Drowning is among the leading causes of accidental death; with 385 people accidentally drowned in inland or coastal waters in 2010. The 385 accidental drownings exceed the UK average of 283 accidental fire deaths in the home (for 2006/07 to 2008/09), the 171 deaths at work in 2010/11, is close to the 380 road deaths caused by drink driving in 2009 and is only 30% fewer than the average number of motorcycling deaths for 2006 to 2009.

The research provided information with which the RNLI could further develop its prevention and education programmes and thereby maximise public safety. The first stage of work assessed the risk associated with various water-related activities, focusing on accidental deaths at sea and around the coast. A primary aim of risk assessment is to estimate the risk of death per participant (individual risk), by dividing the number of deaths by the number of participants. Whilst the number of deaths in any one activity could be said to be relatively few, this must be placed in the context of the number of participants in each activity.

Secondly, current RNLI safety promotion work was evaluated. By assessing all risks and campaigns in a single review, this would help further develop a joined up strategy, where RNLI resources are aligned to the greatest risks, and the most effective methods are taken forward.

The work focused on accidental ‘coastal’ and ‘at sea’ fatal drownings in the UK and Eire, whilst also considering coastal/at sea rescues and lives saved by RNLI lifeboats and lifeguards. Coastal suicides were briefly considered. Suspected crimes were not considered. Inland incidents including in rivers, lakes, canals and other inland locations were not considered.

Advice was provided on strategy options based on:

A key issue is risk perception and hazard awareness. Therefore the work has progressed on to profiling the causes of accidental drowning and then drawing on behavioural psychology and safety / risk communications to further develop coastal safety promotion tactics.