With the restrictions imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19, huge numbers of people took to the sea – and to rivers – to try open water swimming, often for the first time.
Many of those swimmers have continued to swim as the water has dropped in temperature and seas have become more challenging.
Although most open water swimmers enjoy themselves completely safely, the RNLI wants to stress the importance of taking extra care when sea swimming (or dipping) at this time of year.
In the south east, there have been incidents recently where swimmers have drowned at Cuckmere Haven and Hastings.
The RNLI encourages people to enjoy our coastal waters but the charity’s aim is that everyone should come home safely at the end of the day.
To this end, they have shared a short YouTube video aimed primarily at people who are new to the activity, or who want to bob around in the sea for a while, rather than more experienced open water swimmers - although the advice applies to anyone entering cold water this winter.
RNLI Head of Water Safety Gareth Morrison said: "There are very well-documented physical and mental health benefits of swimming in the sea, but it can also be very dangerous if you are unaware or under-prepared. The purpose of this video is to help you enjoy it safely.
"We hope that people will share the video and the safety advice in it with their family, friends and swimming groups.
"Our volunteer lifeboat crews have dealt with a relatively high number of incidents since the end of the summer involving swimmers and dippers, so we are asking everyone to be aware of what they can do to keep themselves and others safe, and to respect the water.
"There are a number of things to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time in the water such as making sure someone is aware when and where you’re swimming (and swimming with others if that’s possible), staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards. That may sound obvious but is very important to avoid any delayed effects of the cold.
"We would also recommend checking with your doctor before trying winter swimming for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.
"If you’re not feeling up to it that day, please stay out of the water. The sea will still be there for another swim tomorrow – and the day after. If you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call 999 or 112 immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’"
The RNLI’s key safety advice for taking a winter dip is:
Don’t swim alone – always go with someone else to a familiar spot
Always check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height
If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim
Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink to help you warm up again when you come out of the water
Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
Acclimatise to the water temperature slowly – never jump straight in
Stay in your depth and know your limits
If you get into trouble remember FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
If you or someone else is in trouble call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard
*To donate to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, go to: RNLI.org/Xmas