Ross Macleod of the RNLI writes:

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea and has been striving to end preventable loss of life around the UK and Irish coasts since 1824.

It provides an on-call, 24-hour lifeboat search and rescue service, a seasonal lifeguard service and a responsive flood rescue team.

It now has a compre-hensive network of 237 lifeboat stations including eight inland locations such as the iconic River Thames in London and Loch Ness in Scotland.

This service is reliant on thousands of unpaid volunteer crew.

The RNLI has always had an interest in accident prevention, stretching back to the 1800’s when sailors were given barometers to check if it was safe to go to sea, but its primary focus has always been SAR.

However this started to change during the 1990’s when a sea safety initiative was established to focus on preventing accidents by offering free fishing boat ‘health checks’.

The charity took another huge step in 2001 when it established a lifeguard service, which by its very nature is preventative and views rescue as the last resort.

This focus on prevention has continued to evolve but hit a crossroads in 2011 when the organisation asked itself a difficult question: how can we save more lives?

To answer this honestly a better understanding of the problem was required, so the RNLI started analysing coastal fatality and incident data to establish who is most at risk.

This evidence-based approach is now changing the way the RNLI operates, no longer celebrating a busy year of rescue, but instead focusing on reducing risk to the public and its own volunteer crew and lifeguards, and driving down fatalities and serious incidents. An ambitious target of halving coastal fatalities by 2024 has now been set, and can only be achieved through partnership work with like-minded organisations and approaching lifesaving in a different way.

This approach has refocused prevention work on those most at risk, and starts to isolate specific behaviour changes that will keep people safer. Examples include knowing that wearing a personal flotation device is the key message we need to communicate with rock anglers, or carrying a means of calling for help that you can reach in the event of capsize when out kayaking.

However, to communicate these messages effectively the RNLI’s prevention activity needed an identity, so an umbrella campaign was created to become the recognisable brand people associate with water safety.

That national campaign is called Respect the Water. It puts drowning prevention at the heart of everything the RNLI does.

It will play an important role in helping the RNLI achieve its aim, and has been developed using best practice from other successful public safety campaigns.

The aspiration is to establish it as the nationally recognised water safety campaign in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

The campaign was created in 2013 and has spoken to many different people about water safety so far, including targeted messaging to those who enjoy activities such as scuba diving or angling, but also more general awareness messaging to those most at risk: adult men.

Now the campaign is established, communication to different groups of people can be dialled up when it’s needed most; talking to commercial fisherman about stability during January, their most dangerous month, or putting water safety on the public’s agenda during the summer with a national advertising campaign, by talking about risks like cold water shock and rip currents.

With lessons learnt the past two years, the Respect the Water campaign will be launched on 9th July and will be the largest campaign the RNLI has ever run, with messages all around the UK and Irish coasts reminding the public that our seas can be dangerously unpredictable and focussing on three main issues:

Cold water shock
Motion of the ocean (currents, waves & tides)
Unexpected slips, trips and falls into the water

Since its creation Respect the Water has tried to get people’s attention by communicating water safety in an interesting and emotive way, using surprising facts, true stories and localisation.

This year will be no exception with thought-provoking campaign ideas across cinema, radio, online, press, and outdoor posters in local communities.

For more information contact [email protected], or visit