The Royal Life Saving Society UK’s (RLSS UK) annual weeklong Don’t Drink and Drown campaign launches today, 18 September, aiming to ensure students remain safe after nights out around the water as thousands of young people head off to university. 

In a sample of UK accidental drowning cases analysed by RLSS UK, 62% of those aged 16-25 who lost their life were students[1].  As a result, the charity is urging students to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings, especially if there is a body of water within the town or city they are moving to.

Of those aged 16-25 who drowned under the influence of alcohol or drugs, 81% weren’t with friends at the time of drowning[2]. The campaign aims to speak to students and encourage them to, after a night out, be responsible for their friends, be a mate, and ensure they return home safely.

As fresher’s events take place across the UK in September, many students will be heading to bars and clubs to celebrate the start of their university adventure, and this is where RLSS UK fears tragedies may occur.

Lee Heard, Charity Director at RLSS UK, said: “Don’t Drink and Drown was launched following a string of tragic and high-profile student drownings in 2014. When heading to university, students should be excited for the year ahead but sadly we have seen various instances where young people’s nights out have sadly not ended the way they had planned.

“University should be a time where students are looking forward to making new mates, rather than losing them. Research indicates that among those aged 16-25 who lost their lives to accidental drowning, 44% had alcohol and/or drugs in their bloodstream[3]. We know that alcohol and drugs have a number of different effects on the body including lowering inhibitions, which leads to impaired judgment, and this is where we see people taking risks and getting themselves into trouble in and around water.”

In line with this, the data also reveals that when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, accidental drowning victims are much more likely to have unintentionally fallen into the water; 55% compared to 36% for those who were not under the influence[4].

Lee continued: “With thousands of students moving to new cities to start university, Don’t Drink and Drown is vital in encouraging students to think about their new surroundings. Many university cities have rivers running through the heart of them or are near a coastline, and our campaign encourages students to ensure they are familiar with what routes they can take home after a night out that steer clear of the water.

Further analysis among alcohol/drug related drownings highlighted that, where known, over half of drug and alcohol related drownings take place between 11pm and 5am, the time in which students may be walking home from nights out. RLSS UK wants to reinforce the message of safety in numbers, be a mate, and stay together to make sure everyone makes it home safe.

Lee said: “We have seen cases of young people walking home after a night out, and for various reasons getting too close to the edge and ending up in the water. At this time of year, the water is colder than it looks and cold water shock is a significant factor, and paired with alcohol numbing senses, limiting muscle ability and slowing down reactions, it makes it extremely difficult to be able to swim and self-rescue. As we see mainly young men, walking home alone, sadly in these cases there is nobody around to help, we see nights out turn into tragedies.”

RLSS UK will be working with numerous universities across the UK and Ireland to get the message out to students returning for the start of term.

Learn more about the campaign

[1] Water Incident Research Hub

[2]   Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK)– Detailed analysis of 16 cases of accidental drowning amongst those aged 16-25 years.  Data sourced from UK Water Incident Research Hub (WIRH) August 2022.

[3] WAID (2018-2022)

[4] WAID (2017-2021)