Summer water safety

On a hot day, it might seem like a great idea to cool down in open water. However, swimming is prohibited in our canals and rivers. There are too many risks that you can't see hidden below the surface, and lots of other ways you can cool down with two feet on the towpath.

We want everyone who visits our canals and rivers to enjoy them safely. Richard Parry, our chief executive, says: “The Canal & River Trust strongly supports the UN’s first annual World Drowning Prevention Day on 25 July in line with our ongoing commitment to raise awareness of the risks when around water.

"Every week, millions of people visit our 2,000 miles of waterways across England & Wales and we take their safety very seriously. As a member of the National Water Safety Forum, we work with partners to promote vital water safety messages all year round, and our Learning & Skills team reach thousands of children every year through water safety activities and assemblies. 25 July will be a day each year when we can all come together to raise awareness of drowning prevention across the world.”

On this page, we've listed out some of the reasons why you're better off enjoying the fresh air, wonderful wildlife and relaxing environment from the towpath. 

Depth perception

  • Canals are often shallow, which you can't tell from the surface. If you jump in you are likely to injure yourself, possibly seriously

  • However, don't be fooled by thinking that all canals are shallow. If you can't put your feet on the ground, it'll be much harder to get out. Rivers, reservoirs and docks are generally much deeper, and colder

Hidden dangers under the water

  • Canals are havens for wildlife and maintaining water habitats are an important part of our work. If you're in the water, reeds and other plant life could get tangled around your limbs and trap you in the water making it very difficult to climb out
  • Sadly, rubbish like shopping trolleys can be lurking below the surface of canals and rivers. If you're in the water you could injure yourself by cutting yourself on a rusty old bicycle or broken glass, or get trapped on a larger piece of rubbish, like a trolley or even a motorbike


Waterborne diseases, including Weil’s Disease (leptospirosis), are extremely rare, but if you are swimming you're most exposed to them. If you are likely to come into contact with water it’s sensible to take a few precautions:

  • If you’ve got any cuts or scratches, keep them covered
  • If you fall in, take a shower and treat cuts with antiseptic and a sterile dressing
  • Wash wet clothing before you wear it again
  • If you develop flu-like symptoms within two weeks, see a doctor and mention that you fell in the water. Not all doctors will know to look for signs of Weil’s Disease, so do suggest it as a possibility

Canal water is untreated water and so may contain pollution, biological or chemical contaminants. Please bear this in mind when you come into contact with the water and follow basic hygiene measures.

Cold temperatures

Even on a hot day inland waterways will be colder than you think, particularly reservoirs and docks as they're deeper. Low temperatures can cause your blood to rush away from your muscles to protect your organs and limbs and muscles may become fatigued quickly - this can lead to drowning

See more information from the RLSS about what cold water can do to your body 

Learning from home

Learning to be safe near water is an important part of a child's education. Take a look at our water safety activities and resources from our Explorers team. 

A young boy enjoying the summer Enjoying the summer

Last date edited: 23 July 2021