Published 16 January 2024

Dads die, but they aren’t meant to drown – Robbie’s story


Gareth Jones, 69, was reported missing by his family on 16 January 2021 after he did not return from a walk, in bad weather, with the family dog in Hove, East Sussex.

Members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) have teamed up with water safety advocate Robbie Jones, to launch a powerful film about the devastating impact of the loss of his father to drowning.

The hope is that the tragic incident can help to educate people on the dangers of open water in bad weather and prevent anyone else suffering the same fate.

Representatives from HM Coastguard, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) came together to produce the film, which hears from 27-year-old Robbie Jones as he tells the story of losing his dad Gareth to the sea in January 2021.

It aims to reduce water-related incidents and fatalities by talking about the impact his death has had on those left behind, particularly his son.

Robbie said: “I lost my rock that night, at just 24-years-old I lost the guy I could talk to about anything and get crucial life advice. My dad was everything to me and to our family.

“Dad’s die, but they aren’t meant to drown. And not so young.

“I don’t want anyone else to ever have to go through that and if talking about it can help, then it is important I do it.

“It is my way of honouring him and making something positive out of the worst thing to happen.”

National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Drowning Prevention Lead, NWSF Chair and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, Dawn Whittaker said: “We want to thank Robbie for his willingness to talk to us about the worst moment of his life and to help to create such a powerful, and heart wrenching, film.

“We think his story will really resonate, everyone can imagine the horror of losing a parent to drowning, but no one should. We hope the film will encourage people to have conversations around water safety and share advice.”

A huge water-based search was launched immediately, with Shoreham and Newhaven RNLI lifeboats Coastguard Rescue Teams sent alongside Brighton RNLI lifeboat, coastguard and police helicopters, Sussex Police, Brighton Beach Office, and nearby vessels taking part.

CCTV footage confirmed that Gareth and Connie, the family dog, had gone into the water but, despite extensive searches, they were unable to find the two. Confirmation came three days later that Gareth and Connie tragically lost their lives.

Robbie has worked since to raise awareness of water safety and will be working with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service community engagement team to visit schools, share his story and deliver crucial messages on water safety.


If someone is in trouble in the sea, call 999 and ask for the coastguard.

For inland waters, ask for Fire and Rescue Service, however, be aware HM Coastguard have delegated responsibility for Search and Rescue coordination for some inland waters.

Call 999 immediately as the operator will know the appropriate emergency service, but local signs can also help.

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