'An absolute lifesaver' - Woman swept out to sea in Cornwall remembers RNLI message

Tina West is urging people to know the 'float to live' message.

A woman who was swept out to sea in Cornwall says remembering the 'float to live' message helped save her life.

Tina West had been paddling near Godrevy beach last summer when she got into trouble in the water.

She said: "My feet were on the ground and the next minute they weren’t.  

"I was just getting pushed further and further out. At that point I realised I’m just not going to be able to get back in.  

"I started waving my arms and shouting for help to see if anybody could see me. I was getting quite tired, but I remembered seeing the RNLI’s Float to Live safety advice at work, so I was able to float on my back to stay calm."

At this point Tina’s husband was able to raise the alarm and to make sure help was on its way. 

Tina added: "Once I knew lifeguards were on their way, I thought as long as I keep calm, I’ll be alright. 

"The advice of Float to Live was an absolute lifesaver.  I was having a conversation with myself, and it just allowed me that opportunity to think. I remember thinking I can do this as long as I need to, until someone comes to get me."

"Once I saw the RNLI lifeguard, I said I am so pleased to see you. Because I had managed to float, I had enough energy and could climb up onto the jet ski to safety."

Tina West and Tarryn Brown have been reunited since the rescue.

RNLI lifeguard Tarryn Brown was on duty on Godrevy beach that day and helped to pull Tina to safety.

Tina says she remembers the moment help arrived. She said: "When I saw the flash of yellow with the lifeguard's coming over on the jet ski. And when they got to me and Tarryn jumped in the water and said 'are you okay, can you climb up on this board,' I said 'try and stop me!'"

Tarryn and Tina have seen reunited, Tarryn says she was relieved when they got to her that day.

She said: "I’m so glad Tina has recovered from her ordeal, and that we were able to help her. I can remember being alerted to someone far out in the water, it took us a few minutes to see her – she was really far out. 

"When we got there Tina was just floating on her back. She wasn’t fighting the current, which conserved her energy and potentially saved her life."

There were 226 deaths in the UK from accidental drownings in 2022, across inland and coastal locations. Of the people who died 40 per cent had no intention of entering the water, such as those walking, with causes including slips, trips and falls, being cut off by the tide, or swept in by waves. 

The RNLI is now reminding people of the message as the weather improves and more people head for the coastline.  

The charity's figures reveal that 32% of people still do not know what to do if they unexpectedly get into difficulty in the water.

New research between the RNLI and University of Portsmouth’s Extreme Environments Laboratory (EEL) shows that floating is different for everyone, where some people naturally float with little movement, others require gentle use of their hands and legs to stay afloat.  

Floating advice

The research has shown that tilting your head back to submerge the ears is key; we all float best in slightly different positions so your legs may naturally sink and you may need to use your hands to scull.  

Relax and try to breathe normally, then once your breathing is under control, call for help or swim to safety if you feel able.  

If you find yourself in difficulty in the water: 

  • Tilt your head back with ears submerged 

  • Relax and try to control your breathing 

  • Use your hands to help you stay afloat 

  • It's okay if your legs sink, we all float differently 

 If you spot someone else in trouble in the water call 999 – if you are at sea or on the beach ask for the coastguard, or if inland ask for the Fire and Rescue Service.  

Joel Ninnes, RNLI Water Safety Delivery Support in the south west, said: "As we approach warmer weather and enter into the bank holiday and half term week ahead, we are expecting the coast to be incredibly busy.  

"We want to make sure that if an emergency unfolds, people know what to do. 

"I’d really encourage anyone reading this to help spread the word to any family and friends – and next time you are in a safe environment practice floating for yourself - why not try it between the red and yellow flags when visiting an RNLI lifeguarded beach."