Student Union president Chris Dingle, tells KU students about the dangers of living very close to the Thames River. 

Don’t Drink and Drown

By Chris Dingle

Everyone loves a good night out with friends. For many this will almost certainly consist of some drinks in the town centre and some pranks and a few hilarious moments. We are lucky enough to live in a town that is leafy, green and has a certain charm to it, along with the second largest night time economy in London outside the West End. Kingston upon Thames…

The name of town gives a clue to one of the most dangerous features of Kingston: The Thames.

Last April a friend of mine made the mistake of drunkenly getting into the River and trying to swim from one side to the other. He had drunk far too much and made the biggest mistake he could. One that would cost him his life. It took days before the police found him by Kingston Bridge. He died leaving his friends and family mourning the loss of a very special and very talented 21 year old with a glittering future ahead of him.

It is important to put in context the dangers of swimming in the River. Here are just some of the dangers that swimmers face in the Thames:

  • Powerful tides, running at around five miles an hour, will overpower even the strongest swimmers.

  • Eddies and undertows – caused by the uneven river bed, the bridge pillars, piers and moored vessels – will suck swimmers under in seconds and keep them below the surface for days. No safety precautions can counter these lethal currents – surviving them is a simply matter of luck.

  • Bitingly cold river water will cripple the most accomplished swimmers and cause involuntary breathing spasms – known as a ‘gasp reflex’ – when a person is temporarily submerged.

  • 39 million cubic metres of raw sewage finds its way into the Thames every year. These spillages occur when heavy rainfall overwhelms the capital’s Victorian sewage system.

Even during the summer the Thames may seem inviting, but it is cold and dangerous and could take your life! Every year the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Metropolitan Police and Port of London Authority deal with tragic drownings. 37 swimmers got into difficulty in the river during 2010 – well over twice that of previous years.

If I can implore you to do anything it is this. Think twice before you do this. Think about leaving your friends and family behind and the heartache it could cause. Think about the emergency services that may have to risk their lives trying to save you. Think about your future… and don’t drink and drown.

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