Figures released by the RNLI reveal that more than half of last year’s fatalities didn’t set out to enter the water

Coastal fatality figures released by the RNLI show that 163 people lost their lives at the UK coast in 2014, with more than half of them not even setting out to enter the water.

The number of near misses was even higher, with volunteer crews saving 460 lives last year.

Meanwhile, five-year coastal fatality figures portray a consistent picture, with an average of 160 people dying around the UK coast each year.

Of the 803 people who died over the past five years, nearly half were taking part in activities like walking, running, climbing and boating and were unlikely to have intended to be in the water say the charity.

The figures also revealed that men are far more prone to getting into danger at the coast than women. Last year nearly three-quarters (74%) of those who died were men, higher than the two-thirds average over the five-year period.

The RNLI is aiming to halve the number of coastal deaths by 2024. The charity’s national drowning prevention campaign, Respect the Water, is this year warning people – particularly adult men – to be aware of the dangers of the coastline, as well as the water itself.

RNLI coastal safety manager Chris Adams, said: “Most people heading for a stroll or run along the coastline probably wouldn’t consider a drowning prevention campaign like this relevant to them as they have no plans at all to enter the water.

“We’re warning people that if they’re going near the water, whatever their activity, they could be at risk and they need to take care. Unexpected dangers like slippery rocks, sudden waves or unstable ground can catch anyone out.”

Jo Wardle tragically lost her fiancée Alex Hardy after slipping at Hendon beach in Sunderland and being washed into the sea.

Ms Wardle said: “Alex and I were walking the dogs along the beach – we used to go there all the time; it was just a normal day. Alex’s dog went down a slipway into the sea but started to struggle. Alex followed, wanting to help, but slipped and banged his head and was then washed out to sea himself. I rushed in, to try and reach him, but the water was just so powerful.

“A huge search took place, but he was gone – at just 32 years old. It was such a massive shock, how a simple walk at the coast can suddenly turn into tragedy. I am still totally devastated.  I respect the sea and coastline more now than ever. I’d urge anyone heading to the coast this summer to be really careful – even if you’re not planning to go into the water, you could still find yourself in danger.”

As part of their awareness campaign the RNLI is also warning people of the unpredictability of the water, including the dangers of cold water and rip currents.

“The water might look inviting, but it can be dangerously unpredictable. Cold water is a major risk for anyone who ends up in the water – intentionally or otherwise. The body’s reaction to sudden immersion in cold water will trigger uncontrollable gasping, which can draw water into the lungs and lead to drowning. The coldness will also gradually shut down the use of limbs, making it very difficult even for strong swimmers to stay afloat.

“Currents under the surface can overwhelm even the strongest swimmers. They drag people out of their depth so quickly, and if you try to swim against them you’ll become exhausted,” added Mr Adams.