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.
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
- DO take notice of safety information, warning signs & flags
- DO swim in swimming pools with supervision and preferably with a Lifeguard on duty
- DO choose to swim in the between the red and yellow flags on the beach
- DO swim in a paddling pool in your garden, if you're supervised by an adult
- DO look out for your friends and family, and ensure everyone is staying safe
- DO lay on your back and float like a starfish or swim with the current if you find yourself in difficulties in the water
- DO wait for emergency services
- DO get trained in life saving and resuscitation techniques, so you know what to do in an emergency
- DO have swimming lessons by a professional instructor if possible
- DO make sure you and your family have basic water safety knowledge
- DON'T enter the water or onto the ice to rescue someone yourself, wait for help
- DON'T swim in non-lifeguarded open water. This includes places such as reservoirs, ponds, lakes, canals & rivers
- DON'T jump or dive into rivers - quick entry into cold water can cause your body to go into shock
- DON'T enter the water if you cannot swim
- DON'T go into water near locks, bridges, weirs, sluices, brides & pipes as these structures are often linked with strong currents
- DON'T swim in the sea if there isn't a Lifeguard on duty
- DON'T swim in water to cool down, instead drink plenty of water and sit in the shade
- DON'T go in the water or onto the ice to rescue a pet / animal
- DON'T go near the edge, you might lose your footings and fall in
- DON'T use inflatables in open water - inflatable dinghies or lilos are a well-known hazard - each year there are a high number of incidents where people on inflatables are blown out to sea
- DON'T tamper with or remove life saving equipment, except for use in an emergency
Water Safety - James' Story
James was a 17 year old boy who drowned in June 2014, whilst swimming and playing with friends in Foulridge Reservoir in Lancashire.
James was a strong swimmer, however the shock of the cold water paralysed his muscles, took his energy, and took his life.
Watch the video, to hear his mum talk about the tragic events of that day.
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
If you find yourself struggling in the water...
Float to Live
It is unlikely you will find yourself in a situation where you need to use these tips, but in case you are the main advice given by the RNLI is FLOAT TO LIVE
They recommend doing the following:
- 1. Fight you instinct to thrash around
First keep calm and try not to panic, your instinct will be to swim hard, don't
- 2. Lean back
Lean back extending your arms and legs, keep your mouth and nose out of the water and your airway clear
- 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
For a demonstration of the steps above, please click here.
How to help someone who is struggling in the water
Stay clam, and try to think clearly.
Keep yourself safe - You are no use to the victim, if you end up in trouble too. Avoid going in.
Get more help - Shout for others nearby, call 999
Talk - Try to encourage and talk them into a safe place. Be clear and positive in your instructions
Throw - A piece of rescue equipment (lifering, a throw bag filled with rope, or other public rescue aid equipment) or anything that will float
Reach - If the person is close enough to the edge of the water for you to reach them, before you pull them in, get down on one knee or lie down so you don't fall in
Encourage anyone who has been in trouble in the water, or ingested water to go to hospital. Keep them warm until an ambulance arrives.
Drowning - Don't let it be you
This short length video by the Royal Life Saving Society UK is designed to highlight the risks of water to young people.
(appropriate for high school age children)
The video covers:
- Why do people drown?
- Dangers of cold and shallow water
- Leaving behind families & friends
- FACTS: 80% of drowning victims are male
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.
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 young 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 more information on how to stay safe in the water, specifically aimed at children and young people, click the button below!
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 to for a swim are places specifically designed for swimming. For details of swimming lessons taking place across the district during the summer break, please click here.
- To access a presentation on water safety resources and swimming programme by the Aquatics Team at Wakefield Council, please click here.
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.
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!
- For winter water safety, please click here.
- For summer 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.
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.
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!
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.
- To view their Water Safety Code, please click here.
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:
- Grille It
- Fence it
- Fill it
BridgesShow detailsA 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.
CanalShow detailsA long, thin stretch of water that is artificially made either for boats to travel along or for taking water from one area to another.
LakeShow detailsA body of water that is surrounded by land.
LocksShow detailsThey 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.
PondShow detailsA 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.
ReservoirShow detailsA large natural or artificial lake used as a source of water supply.
RiverShow detailsA large natural stream of water flowing towards the sea, lake or another river.
SluicesShow detailsStructures 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.
StreamShow detailsA small narrow river.
The SeaShow detailsThe salty water that covers a large part of the surface of the earth, that is partly or completely surrounded by land.
WeirsShow detailsStructures 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.