With nine out of 10 people saved by Lough Neagh Rescue failing to wear a life jacket, the charity hosted a water safety event in a bid to encourage more lough users to think about protecting themselves from disaster.
As well as a talk from Gerry Darby about the environment around the lough, those who attended last Saturday’s event at Kinnego Marina were given demonstrations on the different types of life jackets available and shown how to ensure they were up to standard.
LNR volunteer Sammy Kyles spoke about the effects of cold water and what to do in an emergency, while Paul Quinn from South Shore Marine, spoke about the importance of servicing boat engines and draining them before storage over the winter.
Speaking about the one thing that “will save your life”, Joe Byrne, who has 50 years experience on the water, and works with LNR, the Coastguard and RNLI urged everyone to wear a life jacket.
“A very emotive topic,” he said. “Lough Neagh is absolutely amazing, it’s a massive piece of water and unfortunately over the years it has claimed a number of lives.
“I remember just sitting at home and hearing a report on the BBC news of a young fella who lost his life out there a few years ago.
“He fell off the back of the boat, but what really just sank my heart, was when it said ‘his friend threw his life jacket in after him’.
“A life jacket is completely useless if not worn,” he added. “That’s the mantra of the Coastguards, of Lough Neagh Rescue and the RNLI.”
Sammy Kyles, who volunteers for LNR but works as a lifeguard teacher, then gave a talk about the dangers of cold water shock, advising anyone who finds themselves immersed to stay, calm, relax and not to panic.
“Whenever it comes to cold shock everybody’s automatic reaction whenever they fall into the water is to start swimming - but you shouldn’t,” he said.
“Stay calm and keep your core body protected by tucking up into a ball or lying flat.”
But he did say there are number of dangers to be aware of if you do find yourself overboard on the Lough.
“You freeze, you hold your breath, you’re heart rate increases and there’s a possibility of a stroke or a heart attack occurring,” he continued.
“Unconsciousness and drowning, that is our biggest fear when it comes to water.
“Whenever you go into the water you get a large respiratory gasp, you hyperventilate and you have difficulty holding your breath, severe shivering and your blood pressure goes up.
“After a while the muscles get cold, you can’t do anything and you basically run out of energy.
“The best thing for you to do is to stay calm, not to panic and to relax.
“If you do have to go into the water, wear a dry suit and a life jacket. Cover your head, go into the water slowly and keep your head out of the water.”