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Don't drink and drown: a cautionary tale

Boat licence support advisor Debbi Figueiredo shares a cautionary tale of a New Year that nearly wasn't for her, after she slipped and fell into the water on the way back from a canalside pub.

Boat moored near the Scarisbrick Arms in the snow

The winter season of parties and family gatherings fast approaches and no doubt many of us will be indulging in some festive spirits with friends and family.

Some of us will be cruising to a favourite canalside pub for a festive boating get together. Others of us will be walking and cycling the towpaths, whether that be part of our daily routine or for a special treat.

Whatever the reason, there's more than a fair chance that it could be wet, slippery, cold, dark or a combination of all of these. Add a cheeky drink or three and the result might not be the bundle of fun that was intended.

It's sad fact that every year during the winter, and especially over the festive season, that some boaters and other towpath users will drown while under the influence of alcohol. Fatalities and injuries increase when adverse weather and alcohol are combined.

Don't drink and drown

The Royal Life Saving Society say that it only takes a split second for happy hour to end in a nightmare and that about a quarter of all adult drowning victims have alcohol in their bloodstream. And I'm telling you they are not wrong.

More than a few years ago, when I was relatively new boater, I met up with a whole load of other boater friends for a somewhat chilly New Year's Eve cruise followed by a party in a canalside pub. There were quite a few of us and the beers were being opened shortly after we cleared the last lock on our journey. We all managed to tie up safely at the visitor mooring although we all had to breast up and fitting every boat in was a bit of a juggle.

A cautionary tale

Off we all went to the pub and a very jolly and convivial evening was had by all until chucking out time after “The Chimes” and “Auld Lang Syne”.

It was cold outside the pub with broken ice still on the canal, sparkling frost and a wonderful moon glinting through scudding clouds. You might be wondering by now why I remember in such detail how beautiful it was.

Back to the visitor mooring, down the steep and frosty bank onto the deck of the inside moored boat. Suddenly, I was plunged into ice cold water as I slid down between my neighbour's boat and my own boat having misjudged the gap between the boats.

The water was deep, I could barely keep my head out of the water and it was so very, very cold. I was totally incapable of getting myself out. I looked at the beautiful moon, the moonlit, frost-rimmed landscape and thought: “This is it, what an incredibly stupid way to die!”

Fortunately, my partner and friends came to the rescue and somehow managed to drag me out of the deep water and get me safely back onto my boat. I have never been so grateful. Wet clothes came off and I was tucked up safe and warm in bed.

It was a very lucky escape. If I hadn't had help I never would have got out and would have become an addition to the 427 people who tragically drowned in 2002.

Get home safely and look out for your friends

When you are out and about this festive season be careful next to the water if you've had a drink or two and look out for your friends. Make sure they get home safely.

Wishing you all safe and fun festivities this winter.

Last Edited: 16 November 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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