Campaigning to make water safety part of the UK National Curriculum

Life ring in choppy water. Life Solved logo in bottom left corner

Professor Mike Tipton is using his RNLI connections and research to campaign for change

  • 05 January 2021
  • 3 min read

A University of Portsmouth Professor is campaigning to make water safety a part of the UK National Curriculum.

Each year drowning kills more UK children than house fires or bicycle accidents, and yet there is currently no formal education programme to prevent this in UK schools.

Professor Mike Tipton is using his connections with the RNLI and research into human physiology in cold water to campaign for change.

Often underestimated, the seas, rivers, lakes and waterways of our island nation are an overlooked hazard for young people. But new work looks set to empower a new generation of safe and savvy aquaphiles.

The conservative estimation for global burden of drowning is about 372,000. It is thought that's probably underestimated by as much as 5 times because in third world countries many drownings are not recorded. So it could be as high as 1.2 million. That’s 80% of deaths from Malnutrition; 56% of deaths from Malaria and more deaths than TB, HIV or Polio.

Professor Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology

Education to change behaviour

Working in partnership with the RNLI for more than 20 years, Professor Tipton has become focussed on education to prevent dangerous situations turning fatal. His research into cold water immersion and rescue as well as a background at the Institute for Naval Medicine sees him advise government, industry, health and legal organisations.

By campaigning to get water safety onto the National Curriculum, he hopes to make a significant impact on the hundreds of drowning deaths. With the scheme currently being trialled in schools across Hampshire, he's optimistic about the impact this will have.

Professor Tipton also thinks that by talking with children through schools, the knock-on benefit will be information sharing and education of whole family units 'Lesson for Life'. He tells us about his work in the latest episode of our podcast Life Solved.

More children drown than die in fires or die on bicycles. And yet we have cycle proficiency, we have fire training. We have adverts on national television about smoke detectors. You'll never see anything about drowning.

Professor Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology

Challenging misconceptions about cold water

Their previous research has allowed Professor Tipton and his team to challenge long-held misconceptions about the correct way to behave in water too. His work into cold water shock suggested that remaining still and trusting the body to float was the best tactic for survival for many people, a finding that has been shared in the RNLI 'Respect the Water' 'Float First' campaign.

By targeting high-risk groups with information on how to stay safe, and using appropriate media such as online blogs, magazines and billboard campaigns, he was able to spread the word to the most high-risk groups such as young men.

Professor Tipton and his team are also using their knowledge of the responses of the body to cold water to examine cutting-edge research into treatment for migraine, depression and other conditions, showing how one area of expertise can have an incredible range of real-world impact on everyday lives.

Listen to the Life Solved podcast

The Life Solved podcast explores the world-changing ideas and research coming out of the University of Portsmouth.

You can listen to Professor Mike Tipton in the latest episode of Life Solved podcast.

Life Solved is also available to stream on any podcast app or online. Simply search for 'Life Solved' to listen.

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