'Tombstoning' youngsters risk leaping to their deaths, councils and fire chiefs warn

“Tombstoning is extremely dangerous and anyone doing it is dicing with death or risks ending up with life-changing or serious injuries"


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Reckless thrill-seekers leaping from structures as high as 65-foot into water risk fatal injuries or serious disability after a surge in the dangerous activity during the summer holidays, councils and fire chiefs warn today.

Young people, some fuelled by drink, are risking their lives ‘tombstoning’ – jumping or diving from a height into water unsupervised – into the sea and rivers where they could hit unseen objects or land badly.

Alongside the risk of submerged objects, jumping into cold open water where temperatures can be as low as 15C in the summer – half that of typical swimming pools heated to 30C - can also cause cold water shock. Cold water shock, which can affect breathing and movement - even among strong and confident swimmers - is one of the biggest causes of drowning.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils and all 48 fire and rescue authorities, is calling for the dangers of cold water shock to be taught in swimming lessons. If schools don’t arrange swimming lessons for their pupils, they should receive the safety advice as part of personal, social, health and economic (PHSE) lessons, it says.

The warm weather has seen a recent spike in tombstoning from cliffs, harbour walls, piers and bridges, which has resulted in serious injuries. A woman broke both legs after leaping into the sea and hitting submerged rocks in Dorset and a young man was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries after jumping into the sea in Torquay.

Since 2004 the Coastguard has dealt with more than 200 incidents of tombstoning, with 70 injuries and 20 deaths.

Dangers include shallow water and hidden rocks, as well as strong currents and changing tides which can rapidly sweep people away.

Cllr Morris Bright, Vice Chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Tombstoning is extremely dangerous and anyone doing it is dicing with death or risks ending up with life-changing or serious injuries.

“The message is clear - if you don’t know that the depth of the water is safe or you cannot see what is below the surface, don’t jump or let alcohol, drugs or peer pressure affect your judgement. Even if you think you are jumping safely, children may be watching you and copy your actions.

“Sea and river temperatures can also be deceptive and can cause people’s body temperature to plummet, leading to cold water shock and increasing the risk of drowning, while sea currents or undertow, even on a calm day, can create life-threatening hazards without warning.

“We urge young people to resist temptation to tombstone during the warm weather and to get their kicks from safer activities elsewhere during the summer holidays.”

CASE STUDIES

  • Cornwall Council is warning people not to jump from cliffs and seawalls into water off Cornish coasts. The Safer Cornwall partnership is reminding parents to keep track of their children’s activities and highlighting the risks linked to tombstoning.
     
  • The Coastguard has been called to reports of people tombstoning off the cliffs around Knightstone Island, Weston-super-Mare.
     
  • Children have been spotted tombstoning into the sea from the Hot Walls in Old Portsmouth while several “near misses” have been reported of children jumping from a pontoon into the water in front of a ferry at Eastney, Portsmouth.
     
  • A group of young boys were spotted diving from scaffolding on a sailing club building into the sea in Plymouth – a day after a young man was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries after jumping into the sea in Torquay.
     
  • The headteacher of a school in Bournemouth has written to parents after a groups of teenage boys were seen tombstoning from a footbridge into a river.
     
  • A group of men received a warning from the Coastguard after jumping from the Durdle Door landmark - whose arch is 65ft high - into the sea in Lulworth.
     
  • A woman broke both legs and was airlifted to hospital after leaping into the sea and hitting submerged rocks, in Winspit, Dorset. 
     

NOTES

  • Councils in England face an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025. The LGA’s #CouncilsCan campaign calls on the Prime Minister to ensure the forthcoming Spending Review secures the future of vital local services and the long-term financial sustainability of councils. Visit our campaign page for more information -www.local.gov.uk/spending-review-2019
  • Accidental drownings in the combined months of June, July and August rose by 24 per cent, from 83 in 2017 to 103 in 2018, according to figures from the National Water Safety Forum.
  • The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says on average around 50 people die of alcohol-related drowning around the coast of the UK each year.
  • Facts and safety advice on cold water shock are available here.