Winter water safety

Our waterways are beautiful places to visit in all seasons, and winter with its snowy landscapes and frosty mornings can really be a great reason to head down to the canals for a walk. However, as the temperature drops there are some important potential hazards to be aware of.

Roll your mouse over the red circles in our image to learn about the potential dangers, some interesting facts and get advice about our canals over winter months. 

Be prepared

To be extra careful around water over the winter months there are lots of things you can do to be better prepared for wintry conditions:

  • Plan your route – think about where you want to go and how long you want to be out for
  • Take a friend – it is safer to walk with others
  • Tell someone where you are going – in case you are out for much longer than you say, you can be found more easily 
  • Stay away from the edge - although you may be able to see the edge of the towpath even in the snow, it may be slippery
  • Check the weather – look at the forecast and see what's coming your way
  • Wear the right clothing – waterproofs, sturdy footwear, warm layers can all help your body cope with the wintry conditions
  • Take your phone (or even a whistle) – if you get into trouble, or see somebody else in trouble, you can call or whistle for help 

What to do if you see someone in the water

Don’t get into the water, instead:

  • Call the emergency services on 999 as soon possible
  • Keep an eye on the person
  • Keep talking to them, and stay near them
  • If you can, throw line to them or use a tree branch to reach out to them

Even strong swimmers may face difficulties in icy water

You may feel you can help by getting into the water too, but remember that the water is freezing:

  • All year round the shock of the cold water can really take your breath away and cause your muscles to cramp, making it very difficult for you to stay afloat
  • There may be objects hidden under the water that could cause you harm
  • The water may be deeper than you think. Canals don’t normally have sloping sides and there are only ladders at locks so it’s not easy to get out – especially wearing heavy, wet clothes and helping someone else
  • Staying on the surface is much harder when you are trying to help someone else, they may panic and push you under
  • Boaters might not be able to see you in or under the water and won’t know to stop – if a boat hits you it can cause serious harm to you and the other person 

What to do if your dog gets into the water

Please keep your dog on a short lead along the towpaths so they don’t run off and risk jumping into the water. If your dog does go into the water, don’t jump in after it, instead:

  • Encourage your dog to swim over to you where you can lift them out more safely
  • If they are unable to do this, try to reach them with a line or long branch

For more advice on keeping safe by the water this winter see the RLSS (Royal Life Saving Society UK) website.

Last date edited: 2 December 2019