Safer Tourism calls for action it reveals drowning is a leading cause of death for Brits abroad.

Holidaymakers plunging headfirst into uncharted waters

Safer Tourism is calling for action as it reveals drowning is a leading cause of death for Brits abroad.

Beachgoers who rarely visit their local pool between their holidays are literally plunging headfirst into uncharted waters.  The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) recorded 161 deaths by drowning abroad in the last three years (2016-2018).

New research fr om the Safer Tourism Foundation reveals that more than a third of beachgoers never swim between holidays. The older we get, the less likely we are to head to our local pool. Yet Almost half the drownings abroad each year are people age 50+.

Men are four times more likely to drown than women.

Almost half the deaths by drowning abroad happen to people age 50 and older. And according to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) statistics, men are four times more likely to drown than women of the same age.

The Safer Tourism Foundation, a charity dedicated to preventing accidents, injury and illness for Brits travelling abroad, commissioned a study of 2000 beachgoers. It found a lethal combination of holiday complacency and lack of pool time between holidays puts lives at risk.

Lives at risk

Safer Tourism has called for all beachgoers to de-risk their holidays by improving their own knowledge and awareness of sea safety conditions, limiting alcohol and having a greater appreciation of their own swimming ability.

More than a third of the beachgoers questioned believe the presence of a lifeguard guarantees their safety. So one in four don’t familiarise themselves with sea conditions before going into the water. Nor do they have any idea what the beach safety flags mean.

Almost half of beachgoers admit they wouldn’t know what to do if caught in a riptide or if they fell into deep, cold water. Even though a quarter of beachgoers have witnessed a sea incident involving a lifeguard, just one in six worries about the risk of drowning when heading for the beach on holiday.

Safer Tourism’s research shows that we’re more likely to worry about being in shape for the beach than the consequences of strong currents and tides.

Three-quarters of beachgoers will take part in popular sea-based activities such as pedalo boats, snorkel trips, banana boats and jet skis. But only a quarter would ask to see the relevant licence or insurance certificate of the trip provider. Less than half will check their own insurance to see if they’re covered for the activity.

Older beachgoers are most likely to drown abroad

Katherine Atkinson, CEO of the Safer Tourism Foundation, said: “Our research shows a worrying trend affecting older beachgoers, who travel more frequently, often for longer breaks and increasingly to more far-flung destinations. Babyboomers may be the generation most likely to comply with lifeguard instructions, but FCDO statistics show this is the demographic most likely to drown abroad.”

She continued:  “There is still a really worrying complacency among beachgoers to treat the sea or the ocean like a big pool. Yet on average, a British beachgoer drowns every two weeks. So we are asking holidaymakers to take action before they or their children plunge into uncharted waters.

  • Be aware of your own ability. Before hitting the surf, evaluate your swim skills and fitness in a safe environment, such as the local pool.
  • If you are doing an open water activity like snorkelling, don’t be embarrassed to use a buoyancy aid if you need to. It could make the experience more enjoyable as well as save your life.
  • Whether swimming or taking part in some other water-based activity, find out about the local sea conditions before you take the plunge. The water may be colder than you expect, affecting your swim-ability. There may be unfamiliar tides and marine life.
  • Check the water safety flags.  Always swim between the red and yellow flags, and remain vigilant as tides and currents can move you out of the swim safe zone.
  • Swim parallel to the beach, not away from it, so you avoid getting out of your depth or overtired. Never swim at unpatrolled beaches and never swim alone or at night”.

Top tips from Miami Ocean Rescue

In an exclusive interview with Safer Tourism, Gerard Falconer from Miami Ocean Rescue, which typically carries out 800 rescues a year, offered this advice for beachgoers:

  • Sit and swim near a lifeguard tower. Lifeguards are there to help you. They know the local conditions and can offer medical aid and assistance when you need it.
  • When in doubt, don’t go out. You may not think the water is rough, but things can get hectic pretty quickly.
  • Know what the flags mean, and don’t swim past your ability.
  • Keep children well-attended. It only takes a second for a child to be in a situation that is over their head. When you go to the beach with children, you need to be more focussed.
  • Heat exacerbates everything, especially for elderly swimmers who may go into the water to cool off, but the next thing you know, they are having some kind of medical emergency.
  • If there is surf, there may be a riptide.
  • Younger adventure-seekers will swim further, try to do more and may end up in difficulties.