A man in his twenties moments from drowning in the River Thames has told RNLI crew how he managed to stay above the water by adopting the charity’s ‘Float to Live’ advice.
The man, who had been at a local pub in Wapping had decided to go for a swim in the river but quickly found himself overcome by the strong currents and suffering from cold water shock.
With his muscles cramping and on the verge of drowning, he recalled seeing an RNLI poster urging people who find themselves in difficulty in the water to float on their backs until they can regain control of their breathing.
On receiving a call from the UK Coastguard to a person in distress in the water close to Tower Bridge, the crew of Tower RNLI Lifeboat Hurley Burly arrived on scene within three minutes to find officers on board a Metropolitan Police marine boat, holding onto the man, but unable to recover him on board.
A man who went swimming is held above the water by officers from the Metropolitan Police. Credit: RNLI
Going alongside, the RNLI crew were able to transfer the casualty onto the lifeboat and take him to the police pier at Wapping where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service and was taken to hospital.
RNLI helm Steve Doherty explained that when the man had been found in the river by the Metropolitan Police Marine Unit, he had been lying on his back in the water in the classic ‘star shape’ recommended by the RNL I’s ‘Float to Live’ campaign.
‘He was freezing when we brought him onto the lifeboat, and he had inhaled a lot of water,’ Steve said, explaining that the man, who was only wearing boxer shorts, had decided to go for a swim, but had not realised how strong the incoming tide was.
‘Once in the water he realised it was a bad idea but couldn’t get back to the shore and started to panic. He said that he thought he was going to drown and then he remembered the RNLI Float to Live advice and so lay on his back with his arms and legs extended until help arrived. On further questioning, in his own words, he said ‘I just floated on my back, and that’s the only reason I am alive’,’ explained Steve.
The rescue of a man at Chelsea on 11 July. Credit: RNLI
The crew of the lifeboat received the initial call from the UK Coastguard to a person in distress in the water at 5.07pm on Tuesday 9 July. The lifeboat was returning from a previous shout when the call came in and immediately diverted to the scene.
The ‘Float to Live’ advice is an essential message in the RNL I’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water. It urges people to follow this potentially lifesaving advice if they find themselves in trouble after falling into cold water:
Fight your instinct to swim hard or thrash about – this can lead to breathing in water and drowning
Instead, relax and FLOAT on your back, until you have regained control of your breathing
Guy Addington, RNLI Community Safety Partner for the South East and London, said:
‘This rescue demonstrates just how effective the Float technique can be in saving lives, even in the treacherous waters of the River Thames’.
‘No one should have to lose someone they love to drowning. Many of the tragic deaths recorded at the coast and on the Thames could be avoided if people understand the risks and prepare themselves by practising this method and we would urge people to share this message as widely as possible’.
The RNLI’s Float to Live poster. Credit: RNLI
‘Knowing what to do if you fall into cold water can be the difference between life and death. The instinctive human reaction when you fall into cold water can cause panic and gasping for breath, increasing the chances of breathing in water. Although it’s counter-intuitive, the best immediate course of action is to fight your instinct and float on your back.’
The following day, Wednesday 10 July, the Tower Lifeboat crew were tasked by UK Coastguard at 4.30pm to reports of a man in the water at Chelsea.
When the crew arrived on the scene, they found a man struggling to stay above the water. The man who was cold and shocked was brought aboard the lifeboat by the crew and taken to a nearby pier where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service.