Water Safety

Drowning is among the leading causes of accidental deaths and claims the lives of more than 50 children every year in the UK.

Under-estimating the dangers of water can have tragic consequences. You can't always see the danger hidden below the surface. Water is unpredictable and even the strongest swimmers can get into trouble quickly.

Children are often drawn to open water particularly during the summer months, this includes places such as the sea, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, canals, rivers, and even paddling pools.

The key to staying safe is making the right choices to avoid getting into difficulty in the first place. Please check out our guidance below for top tips, facts and resources on staying safe around water.

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Remember if you are in danger, or you see someone in danger call 999

In inland water, ask for FIRE

In the sea, ask for the COASTGUARD

If someone has gone under the water and cannot be seen, ask for POLICE

RNLI - What to do in an Emergency?

RNLI - What to do in an Emergency?


1. Fight your instinct to thrash around
First keep calm and try not to panic, your instinct will be to swim hard, don’t

2. Lean back
Lay on your back and float like a starfish if you get into trouble in the water, breathe slowly, then you can make a plan or swim to safety if possible

3. Gentle movements
If you need to, gently move your arms and legs in a sculling motion (a bit like when using an ore in a boat)

4. Catch your breath
Float until you can control your breathing. Do this for 60-90seconds or until you feel calm

5. Now think about how to get out
Only now can you think about the next steps

Top tips for staying safe in and around water

Key Water Safety Messages
  • Stop & Think
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    – Take notice of safety information, warning safety signs & flags. Go to a lifeguarded beach or venue and swim between the red and yellow flags

    – Do not use inflatables in open water

    – No matter how warm it is on land, water is always cold. Be aware of Cold Water Shock

    – Stay out of water near locks, bridges, weirs, sluices, & pipes as these structures are often linked with strong currents, do not jump in to water from height

  • Never go near open water alone
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    – Stay away from open water when you are alone. Always make sure you are with a friend or family member if you are going for a walk or a day out near open water

    – Look out for your friends and family, and ensure everyone is staying safe together

  • If you or someone else if in danger in the water, CALL 999
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    – Do not enter the water or onto the ice to rescue someone yourself, wait for help

    – Never enter the water or onto the ice to rescue a pet / animal

    – You are more help if you remain on the land. Remain calm and call 999. Be a lifesaver!

How to help someone who is struggling in the water
  • Talk, Throw, Reach & Encourage
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    If you are trying to help someone who has fallen into or entered the water, you must remain calm and think clearly.
    Shout for help and call 999. Always avoid entering the water yourself, instead try following the sequence below:

    TALK: Be clear and positive in your instruction. Talk the into a safe place.

    THROW: Ideally a piece of rescue equipment, however you need anything that will float. (lifering, a throw bag filled with rope, or other public rescue aid equipment).

    REACH: Only if they are close to the edge can you try and reach for them. Ensure you are as close to the ground as possible, so you also do not fall in.

    ENCOURAGE: Encourage anyone who has been in open or cold water to go to hospital. If an ambulance has been called, ensure the person is calm and warm until they arrive.

Be Water Wise -

In this short film created by Wakefield Council and Partners, we see Caleb jump into the water following peer pressure from his friends.

  • What happened when Caleb entered the water?
  • Do you think he got cold water shock?
  • Was it deep and were there currents in the water?
  • How do his friends feel?
  • His parents have to celebrate his 18th Birthday without him, how does that make you feel?

Hidden Dangers

There are lots of hidden dangers underneath the water that you cannot see from the edge, below are some examples:

  • Undercurrents - Have the ability to pin even the strongest swimmers to the bottom of the riverbed
  • Submerged strainers e.g. a tree, a shopping trolley, vehicles under the water that water can pass through but humans cannot
  • Contamination from unclean / unsafe water - this can lead to infections and diseases
  • Cold water - Even on a scorching hot day, the water will remain cold and could cause cold water shock, which will affect your ability to swim, look after yourself or rescue others. Cold water shock is a key reason why people drown
  • Underwater equipment, particularly in reservoirs
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Water Safety on Holiday

More than 85 British Nationals drowned abroad in 2021.

Whether holidaying abroad, or at home in the UK and Ireland it is still as important as ever to remain safe and vigilant around water. Click below to understand the basic principles to help ensure your family stays safe.

Swimming Pool Safety Advice

Over the last six years 30 children under 10 years old have drowned in holiday swimming pools abroad - RoSPA believes that all of these deaths could have been prevented.

RoSPA have created a very helpful guide of key tips and information to help stay safe on holiday. Click here to check it out.

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How to RELAX by the pool

If you're planning a holiday that includes access to a swimming pool, it's important to follow a few simple steps to keep everyone safe and well during the trip.

The Safer Tourism Foundation is sharing a few handy reminders to help travellers R.E.L.A.X

(The safer Tourism Foundation, 2024)

Beach Safety

The RNLI have created 5 top tips to help you stay safe on beaches this summer!

  1. Choose a lifeguarded beach
  2. Call 999 or 112 in an emergency
  3. Float to Live
  4. Know the risks and what to do
  5. Know your flags

Find out more
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Where can I find out more information on Water Safety?

The agencies listed below have a variety of resources to help you feel safer around water.

Resources for Schools / Colleges

Resources for Schools / Colleges

Additional water safety resources for Schools and Colleges can be found here.

For age appropriate resources and videos, including how to Float to Live and stay safe in and around water, please click on the link above and scroll down to ‘Water Safety‘.

Royal Life Saving Society UK - RLSS UK

Royal Life Saving Society UK - RLSS UK

The Royal Life Saving Society UK are a registered charity whose aim is to share resources, knowledge and expertise with as many people as possible, giving everyone the potential to enjoy being in, on and around water safely and save lives.

  • They have created a range of resources for Pre-School, Primary School and Secondary School children, that can be accessed here

Filling Up Film

This hard hitting film focuses on a boy who meets his friends near a river and takes part in a dare which has tragic consequences.

Developed by Derbyshire Fire and Rescue with HROC and produced by Chrome Productions Artem SFX.

The RNLI provide 24 hour rescue service, through the lifeboats and the lifeguards who patrol 248 beaches across the UK. They influence, supervise and educate people on the dangers of the water and how to stay safe.

  • Summer is the busiest time of the year for the RNLI, click here to read their safety information, on knowing the risks, how to call for help and much more
  • The RNLI’s short ‘Respect the Water’ and ‘Float to live’ video is factual and interesting
  • For Primary aged children, watch the catchy Seaside Safety Song here
  • For more information on how to stay safe in the water, specifically aimed at children and young people, click the button below!
Find out more

Cold Water Shock

Cold Water Shock (CWS) is an involuntary response by the body being suddenly or unexpectedly immersed into water which has temperature of less than 15 degrees. 

Your body's reaction to CWS will affect your ability to move and may seriously affect your breathing. 

Watch the video to know what to do in overcoming cold water shock should you ever find yourself in that position

Wakefield Council

Wakefield Council

Wakefield Council offer a schools swimming and water safety programme, along with water safety assemblies, bookable water safety sessions during school holidays as a part of the aquatics holiday programme and water safety advice.

  • For summer and winter water safety advice, please click here
  • The only safe place to go for a swim are places specifically designed for swimming. For details of swimming lessons taking place across the district check out what is on offer at your local Aspire leisure centres

Be Water Wise

Credit: Wakefield Council, WSCP, West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, Canals & Rivers Trust, West Yorkshire Police, West Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Yorkshire Water.

Colleagues across Wakefield have created a film to bring home to hard hitting realities of swimming in open water.

With the help of Sam Teale Productions and local actors, three real life scenarios have been created to show you what can happen when you enter open water and the impact this has on the people you leave behind.

Be Water Wise -
Dog Rescue

In the his short film we are made aware of the dangers of open water, when Amy enters to rescue her dog.

Be Water Wise -
Non-English Speaking person

During this short film, we see Harris, a non-English speaking man unable to read the water safety signs and enter the water.

Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT)

Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT)

The CAPT have created a handy leaflet on Water Safety, that can be printed off and handed to parents.

The document highlights the dangers posed when a child is left unsupervised for a short period of time, even in the shallowest of water.

To access the leaflet, please click here.

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue provide a 24hour service to people in the UK. They attend fires, road traffic collisions, and rescue operations on land and in the water.

Do you know who you need to call if you are in danger in the water, or if you see someone in danger in the water? Call 999 and ask for FIRE.

In 2021, there were a total of 124 water rescue incidents attended to by Fire Services in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2021 (57 in West Yorkshire), with 23 fatalities recorded in Yorkshire and the Humber during the 12-month period.

Water Safety

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, have joined up with Yorkshire Water to explain the risks and hidden dangers of swimming in open water.

Remember to stick to the designated swimming areas and do not be tempted to cool off in any open water.

If someone is in trouble in the water, call 999 and importantly ask for the FIRE SERVICE as they have specialist water rescue equipment.

NEVER enter the water to attempt a rescue!

Explorers by the Canal & River Trust is a section of their website dedicated to water safety for Children and Young People.

  • For summer water safety, please click here
  • For winter water safety, please click here
  • For activity packs, challenges, posters, videos and lots more information and resources, please click here
  • Click on the button below for a video that helps children understand water safety rules, outlines why it is important to have rules when playing near water, and how to help in an emergency
Watch the video

Yorkshire Water own and manage over 100 reservoirs in the Yorkshire area. They help maintain the reservoir and ensure the warning signs are clear and contain up to date information.

  • To understand the dangers of cold water, biggest risks to be aware off in and around reservoirs and advice on what to do in an emergency please click on the button below
Find out more

Reservoir Safety

Yorkshire Water have created this short film outlining the risks and dangers of entering and swimming in reservoirs

A quick dip isn't worth your life.

Colin the Coastguard is an interactive website for young children.

  • There is a variety of fictional characters who have varying jobs surrounding keeping you safe in the water
  • Their website contains adventure story books, safety posters and free activity sheets, click on the button below to check these out!
Find out more

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - RoSPA

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - RoSPA

Everything the RoSPA do is guided by two core principals, their vision and their mission.

Vision: Life, free from serious accidental injury

Mission: Exchanging life-enhancing skills and knowledge to reduce serious accidental injuries

It is wonderful to be outdoors, having fun in water, in a pool and on the beach – but it’s important to be aware of the risk that water poses to children and young people.

Garden Ponds

Garden ponds are great! They're nice to look at, good for wildlife... Unfortunately they're not so good for children.

There are a number of easy options that can be taken to give parents and carers peace of mind and make ponds safer:

  1. Grille It
  2. Fence it
  3. Fill it

Water Safety Symbols

There are three main types of water safety signs you will find when you are around water. Each one has its own meaning, but all of them work to the same system.

To access a poster of the national water safety signs, please click here.



Signs that mean you should not do something, are always:

- A red ring shape, with a line running through
- White background, red line and black symbols or shapes
- They inform you of things you are not supposed to do

These signs tell you that it would be dangerous to do something,or go in that place.



Signs that warn you of danger, are always:

- Triangle shaped
- Yellow background, with black symbols
- They are placed to help you spot a hazard that is not always obvious

They mean that you should be aware of something.



Signs that mean you should do something, are always:

- Blue and circle shaped
- White symbols or shapes
- They inform you of things you need to do

These signs tell you that you should do something to be safe.

  • Bridges
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    A structure carrying a road, path or railway etc across a river, road or other obstacle.

    Never jump or tombstone into water from a bridge. You will not be able to estimate how deep the river is.

    Sudden emersion in cold water can cause your body to go into shock.

  • A long, thin stretch of water that is artificially made either for boats to travel along or for taking water from one area to another.
  • A body of water that is surrounded by land.
  • They are structures that allow boats to travel up and down a water way.

    Never swim in or near a lock, even if there are no boats around. The gates can without warning, slam shut with great force created by water pressure.

    Some locks have guillotine gates as they open strong currents pour through or beneath these gates. Never swim near or climb on these structures. The moving parts which lift the gates are dangerous and can trap or injure you.

  • A small area of still, fresh water.

    It is different form a river or a stream because it does not having moving water and it differs from a lake because it has a small area. Some ponds are formed naturally, filled either by underwater spring or by rain water, sometimes know dewponds. Other ponds are artificially made.

  • Reservoir
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    A large natural or artificial lake used as a source of water supply.
  • A large natural stream of water flowing towards the sea, lake or another river.
  • Sluices
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    Structures that control the flow of a river.

    Some open and close automatically without warning.

    The rush of water as it empties into the river, will sweep away anyone swimming near these structures. Do not climb these structures, or enter the water, or swim near a sluice.

  • A small narrow river.
  • The Sea
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    The salty water that covers a large part of the surface of the earth, that is partly or completely surrounded by land.
  • Structures that help to maintain water levels.

    Water currents at weirs form stoppers these are very strong currents that can drag you under the water and hold you there.

    Do not climb on these structure, or enter the water, or swim near a weir.

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