Safer Tourism calls for action as drowning is revealed a leading cause of death for Brits abroad.

Holidaymakers plunging headfirst into uncharted waters

Safer Tourism calls for action as drowning is revealed 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.

  • 161 deaths by drowning abroad were recorded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the last three years (2016-2018).
  • Research from 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.
  • 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 FCO statistics, men are four times more likely to drown than women of the same age.

A study of 2000 beachgoers commissioned by the Safer Tourism Foundation, a charity dedicated to preventing accidents, injury and illness for Brits travelling abroad, reveals a lethal combination of holiday complacency and lack of pool time between holidays, that is putting lives at risk.

As tourists admit they need to take responsibility for a safer beach experience, Safer Tourism is calling for all beachgoers to take action to de-risk their holidays by improving their own knowledge and awareness of sea safety conditions, limiting alcohol and having greater appreciation of their own swimming ability.

  • More than a third of the beachgoers questioned believe the presence of a lifeguard guarantees their safety, which means one in four never familiarise themselves with sea conditions before going into the water or 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.

While three-quarters of beachgoers will take part in a sea-based activity with pedalo boats, snorkel trips, banana boats and jet ski the most popular, only a quarter would ask to see the relevant licence or insurance certificate of the trip provider, and less than half will check their own insurance to see if they’re covered for the activity.

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 FCO statistics show this is the demographic most likely to drown abroad.

“One British beachgoer drowns on average every fortnight, but we’re really encouraged that beachgoers of all ages agree they can take action to ensure a safer experience.

“There is still a really worrying complacency among beachgoers to treat the sea or the ocean like a big pool, so we are asking holidaymakers to take action before they or their children plunge into uncharted waters.

  • Be aware of your own ability. Just as skiers will typically take a gym class before hitting the slopes, evaluate your swim skills and fitness in a safe environment  – such as the local pool – before hitting the surf.  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 saving 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 which can affect your swim-ability, but there may be unfamiliar tides and marine-life so 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”.

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.