SWIMMERS are being urged to stay safe when taking a dip in the sea as new figures show a rise in the number of people drowning off the North West coastline.

RNLI data shows 29 people lost their lives around north England shorelines last year - the highest for four years - including one off the coast of Wirral.

The number of near-misses was even higher, with 52 lives saved by the RNLI's lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the north.

The charity has launched a major drowning awareness campaign - "Respect the Water” – urging people to stay safe this summer.

Over the past four years, 90 people have died around the north England coasts – an average of 23 each year.

The figures show a clear gender divide, with adult men accounting for two-thirds, or 66%, of deaths over this time.

Tony Clare, RNLI coastal safety manager for north of England, said: "With more people losing their lives at the coast each year than are killed in cycling accidents, we’re trying to make people, particularly men, realise that they are at risk from drowning if they don’t follow some basic but important safety advice.

"Of course we want people to go to the coast and enjoy it – we're lucky to have an exceptional coastline around the UK – but we want people to understand there are risks, and that they should not underestimate the power of the sea."

Many would assume adrenaline sports and rough weather are the biggest causes of incidents but, in fact, it’s casual, everyday use of the coast and sea which often results in fatalities.

Swimming and general leisure use of the water accounted for 20 (22%) of the coastal deaths in the north since 2010.

And it's not only water-based activities which put people in danger.

Over the four-year period, slips and falls while walking and running accounted for 27 of the coastal deaths in the north. Alcohol consumption is also a contributing factor in around one-fifth of the coastal fatalities in the north.

For those entering the water, intentionally or otherwise, cold water shock is a significant danger.

The charity is warning people to be aware of the effects of cold water shock and to acclimatise gradually when getting in to the water.

Rip currents consistently account for around two-thirds of the environmental-related incidents RNLI lifeguards respond to each season.

Mr Clare added: "Remember that, despite warm air temperatures, the UK sea temperature is cold enough year-round to trigger cold water shock, so acclimatise gradually in shallow water.

"Don’t over-estimate your ability – the sea is a very different environment to a pool and even the strongest swimmers can tire quickly. If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic or try to swim against it; swim parallel to the shore until you’re free."