Don’t jump into the unknown!

It’s that time of year again – the weather is (sometimes!) beautifully warm, people are on holidays, and perhaps a touch too much alcohol may have been consumed. Inhibitions are lowered, and somebody decides to jump off a pier or a bridge.

I can see the attraction of tombstoning, being a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

However, there is a really simple message for people to keep in their minds: don’t jump into the unknown!

Look before you leap

Last week’s newspapers wrote about a man in his 20s who jumped 30 feet off Brighton Pier into just three feet of water. Unsurprisingly, he suffered serious head and spinal injuries – hopefully he will make a full recovery, but others have not been so lucky.

Sadly, it’s not difficult to find many stories of deaths and serious injuries caused by tombstoning in recent years.

Tombstoning offers a high-risk, high-impact experience but it can have severe and life-threatening consequences. Some of these reasons may seem obvious, but they’re worth emphasising – as the accident stats show!

Injuries and deaths as a result of tombstoning are a growing problem. Over the five year period 2004-2008 – 139 incidents required a rescue or emergency response and 12 of them ended in a fatality.

We looked at 41 of the most serious cases in more detail, and the stats may surprise you.

  • Most of those involved in the most serious cases were male (85%)
  • Teenagers were involved in just over half the cases (55%), followed by those in their 20s (25% with the remainder of incidents involving people aged over 30 years
  • All of the known alcohol-related incidents involved males aged over 40 (which accounted for three of the fatal incidents)
  • Of the non-fatal incidents, spinal and limb injuries (both at 20%) were most commonly reported.

So, perhaps counter intuitively, it’s not just teenage boys who are the problem. And it’s not the teenagers who are putting their lives in danger after drinking – that is reserved for those who are old enough to know better.

Many of the non-fatal incidents have resulted in life-changing injuries and they required significant resources from the rescue services. As well as the costs to the authorities, these people are now going to require lifelong care from family and friends – it’s not just their own quality of life that has been reduced.

Young and older fathers were among the fatalities, along with at least three teenagers. The coastguard has produced a video clip highlighting the consequences.

So what’s RoSPA’s advice? You may be expecting me to wave my arms and say, “Don’t do it!” But this is the real world. People are going to do what they feel like doing – and most of the time, that’s fine. So all we are saying is that people should arm themselves with information, and know what they’re getting themselves into.

Taking a moment to think through what you’re about to do may save a lifetime of pain and regret – or it may simply save your life.

Don’t jump into the unknown. Consider the dangers before you take the plunge:

  • Check for hazards in the water. Rocks or other objects may be submerged and difficult to see
  • Check the depth of the water. Remember tides can rise and fall very quickly – as a rule of thumb, a jump of ten metres requires a water depth of at least five metres
  • Never jump while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Check for access. Can you get out of the water once you’re in?
  • Consider the risks to yourself and others. Conditions can change rapidly – young people could be watching and may attempt to mimic the activity. And, if you jump when you feel unsafe or pressured, you probably won’t enjoy the experience.

Jumping in is the easy part; getting out of the water is often more difficult than people realise, and don’t forget that strong currents can rapidly sweep people away – even strong swimmers cannot swim against the tide.

The best way to learn about the risks involved and have a good experience is to try coasteering – a mix of scrambling, climbing, traversing and cliff jumping around the coast with a professional guide.

Stay tuned to the blog next week for an article on coasteering!

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s press officer/web editor

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