Water safety

During hot weather cooling off in swimming pools or bodies of water such as rivers, canals, lakes or the sea is a tempting way to obtain relief from the heat. But people who do not take the right precautions may find themselves in difficult, dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations.

Image. If someone is in difficulty in the water shout reassurance to them, shout for help and contact the emergency services (call 999 or 112).

Whether you are an experienced swimmer or not, there are simple principles you should follow when swimming:

  • always look for warning and guidance signs nearby
  • only enter the water in areas with adequate supervision and rescue cover
  • always wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket for activities on the water or at the water’s edge (such as when boating or fishing)
  • never enter the water after consuming alcohol
  • be aware of underwater hazards
  • get out of the water as soon as you start to feel cold
  • swim parallel with the shore, not away from it
  • avoid drifting in the currents
  • do not enter fast flowing water
  • always take someone with you when you go into or near water. If something goes wrong, they will be able to get help
  • if someone is in difficulty in the water shout reassurance to them, shout for help and contact the emergency services (call 999 or 112)

Supervise children around water

Image. Drowning is among the 10 leading causes of death for people aged 1-24 years. Children under 5 are at greatest risk. World Health Organisation.

Young children can drown in less than two inches (six centimetres) of water, in only 20 seconds. If they are very young, you might not even hear them.

What can you do?

Babies and infants need constant supervision around water. Here are some simple guidelines to help parents and carers keep babies and children safe around water:

Infographic. Don’t get distracted by your mobile phone; don’t leave them unsupervised even for a moment. Cover garden ponds or ensure they are fenced off securely. Always stay with your child if they are using a paddling pool and empty it after use. When near swimming pools (at home or on holiday) make sure you never leave your child unattended. This is still important if they are using swimming aids like arm bands, rubber rings or floats. Teach children about water safety so that they choose safe places to swim, such as public pools and beaches patrolled by lifeguards, rather than canals, gravel pits and rivers, as these can be dangerous. make sure children wear appropriate, well-fitting life jackets if doing water sports

What cold water can do to your body

Cold water shock

The term ‘cold water shock’ refers to a range of natural reactions that our bodies take to protect us when we enter cold water.

Your body goes through three stages during cold water shock:

  • The first is a gasp for breath
  • Next comes rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Your blood pressure shoots up as your body tries to keep your blood warm by moving it towards the middle of your body

Get out of the water as soon as your breathing is back under control – before the further effects of cold water shock kick in.

Why does cold water shock cause drowning?

As your muscles cool, your strength, endurance and muscle control reduce to the point where you can’t swim any longer, so can’t rescue yourself. This is called ‘swim failure’, and if you haven’t got out of the water or managed to get hold of a buoyancy aid (like a lifejacket) by this time, you will drown.

Good to know

  • All waters around the UK are cold enough to induce cold water shock, even in high summer
  • Over 60% of drownings are when people have ended up in the water by accident and can’t get out safely
  • A sudden rise in blood pressure can be fatal for people with a pre-existing heart condition
  • Studies show that people’s ability to swim in cold water is much less than their ability to swim in a warm swimming pool

Find out more from the Royal Lifesaving Society: Cold Water Shock – the Facts | Royal Life Saving Society UK ( RLSS UK )

What should you do if you fall into the water?

Know how to float
Infographic. 5 steps to know how to float. 1)If you’re struggling in the water fight your instinct to thrash around 2) Lean back – extend your arms and legs 3) Gently move them around to help you float if you need to 4) Float until you can control your breathing 5) Only then, call 999 for help or swim to safety

Follow the RNLI’s Float to Live advice If you fall into cold water:

More information

RNLI beach safety: RNLI Beach Safety – Top Five Tips To Stay Safe By The Sea

Summer water safety | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)

Water Safety Code – RoSPA

Swim Safe – teaching children to swim safely

Cold Water Shock – the Facts | Royal Life Saving Society UK ( RLSS UK )