ON average, 133 people lose their lives in Irish waters each year.
Alan Cott, of Ballycotton, knows only too well the sorrow and devastation a loss of life at sea can have on families and communities.
He lost his brother, Glynn, 12 years ago in a trawler tragedy. He was one of three men on the Maggie B which sank around six miles off Hook Head in Wexford on March 29, 2006.
“One survivor was found on an upturned life-raft,” says Alan. The bodies of Glynn, aged 31, and a family friend were never recovered.
Four years ago, Alan joined the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as a volunteer and is one of 39 ambassadors spearheading a Respect The Water campaign aimed at promoting water safety advice to all who visit the coasts.
He and his fellow ambassadors, will visit GAA clubs to raise awareness about water safety.
“Stats show that it is mostly males aged 16 to 35 age group who are most at risk,” says Alan.
“I think this is a brilliant way to go about working towards the national goal of halving the drowning figures over the next 10 years.”
Alan explained his reasons for joining the RNLI.
“I felt if I could provide any help to prevent something like this happening, it would be worth it,” he says.
“Even if I couldn’t help, I might be able to bring a loved one home.”
Alan, whose grandfather was in the Merchant Navy, and whose dad was a fisherman, doesn’t want other families to go through the devastation caused by the loss of a loved one at sea.
“I don’t want other families to feel the same way my family and I felt,” he says.
“I found in the RNLI, that this organisation does make a difference. I have seen the professionalism of the volunteers and the kind-heartedness of people; it’s amazing.
Alan, who is a member of Russell Rovers GAA club in Shanagarry, will visit GAA clubs in Munster over the summer, working with the GAA in their communities to highlight the risks of drowning and share life-saving advice.
“It is giving a simple message, one that hopefully will never have to be used,” he says.
“The campaign aims to show those most at risk, the potential dangers of the water, to encourage them to re-consider their actions and adopt safer behaviour.
“Current drowning figures show a clear gender divide, with men accounting for more than two-thirds of those who die.”
Some drowning victims never intended to go into the water.
“Over half never planned to enter the water,” says Alan, who adds that floating is a great skill to know.
“If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, floating can increase your chances of survival. Cold water can leave you gasping for air and increase your heart rate. Move your arms and legs less to conserve energy and begin to float to regain control of your breathing and your heart rate. Leave 90 seconds pass to gain control of your breathing.”
The Float to Live message is not given as advice that would work in every situation.
“It is advice that gives people time and gives you every chance before the search and rescue services are alerted or arrive.” says Alan.
“We wanted to give people one simple key piece of advice that they might remember and share.
“Learning to float in the water is as simple as it gets. Panicking will only exhaust you and lessen your ability to swim. The safety advice is a relevant message for everyone visiting coasts.”
Practice makes perfect.
“Practising floating in shallow water when you are at the seaside is a good idea,” says Alan. “You may never have to use it, but learning to float could save a life, or your life.”
People enjoying summer living at the beach in fine weather, are often unaware of danger.
“It can be a perfect day,” says Alan. “There doesn’t have to be a storm. If you are in the water and unexpected waves knock you off your feet, or an unexpected rip current occurs, swim parallel to the shore. Then, when the rip current is gone, make your way back to shore.”
Rip currents can travel up to the same speed as an Olympic swimmer (4.5mph), and pull even a strong swimmer out to sea. Even in summer, temperatures can cause cold water shock which can steal the air from your lungs and leave you helpless in seconds.
Alan will be advising minor and senior GAA members about water safety. He has another message.
“There will be no clash with championship games!” says Alan. “We’ll be passing on the message to everyone 20 minutes before training.”
Alan is proud to be an ambassador for the prevention campaign, saying: “If one life is saved; then it will be worth it.
“Knowing the feeling of losing someone, grief will be spared for the whole family and the community as well.
Glynn is often in his thoughts.
“Yes. It is only like yesterday,” says Alan. “He was my big brother, my hero, you know, someone I looked up to. He looked out for you.”
The RNLI is a charity that saves lives at sea. There are 46 lifeboat stations in Ireland, four Coast Guard helicopters and various community rescue boats.
The RNLI, Coast Guard and Irish Water Safety all work together on prevention of deaths at sea. The RNLI and the Coast Guard also have a search and rescue role.
See respectthewater.com for more information.