This coming week sees the launch of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) second drowning prevention and water safety week. Customer safety on or near water is a serious subject, and one I thought could be quite challenging to write about.
Fortunately, with help from one of my former angling pupils Simon Mottram, I have been able to include a couple of real life near misses which will probably make you snigger. Much more importantly, it will hopefully make readers sit up and think a little bit about their own circumstances and whether they are perhaps putting themselves at unnecessary risk.
I was a bit shocked to learn that in the 2014/15 financial year, no fewer than 138 people died of drowning as a result or just running or walking near water and then some incident or other meant them ending up in the water. Some of the deaths were caused by slips and trips; others involved persons leaning over water. Some will have involved the victim consuming excessive quantities of alcohol or perhaps an illegal drug. Most, probably all, of these incidents could have been avoided. The Trust and the CFOA are part of the National Water Safety Forum which has been involved in creating the UK’s drowning prevention strategy which aims to reduce the number of people drowning by 50% by 2026.
Simon Mottram is a familiar name in the canal fishing world. With partner Simon Preece, he won the inaugural 2014 Canal Pairs Championship on the Shropshire Union at Goldstone. Aged just ten, Simon fished his first big match back in 1990, the NFA Junior National Championships on the Grand Union Canal. Simon recalls the occasion and what happened at the start of the match.
‘I couldn’t sleep the night before the match, a mixture of worry and excitement. I drew peg B45 at Wolverton. The whistle went at 11am and almost immediately disaster struck. I somehow lost my balance and I and my seat box ended up in the cut. I knew canals were shallow and so I stood up and hauled myself and box back onto dry land. It was a roasting hot day, well over 30°C. It must have been 15 minutes into the match before I could start fishing properly.’
Luckily, nothing untoward happened to Simon that day but imagine for a moment if the water had been six or eight feet deep with a fast current. It could have ended in a serious near miss or even a major disaster. The local press took an interest in this story.
By the mid 1990s, Simon was one of the top junior anglers in the UK, narrowly missing out on England selection in 1997. Simon and his pal Chris Harvey were becoming proficient at bloodworm and joker fishing.
When not fishing, they spent time scouring the Shropshire countryside for ponds that could be possible sources of the bait. It’s known as ‘bloodworm scraping’. One cold winter's day, they found a plentiful supply in a farmer’s pond near Bettisfield. When the farmer discovered their activities, he was extremely irate and asked them (not very) politely to depart and under no circumstances to ever return.
Boys being boys, Simon and Chris promptly ignored the instruction and sneaked back to the pond once the owner had disappeared out of view. Then disaster struck; water went over Simon’s chest waders and he found himself firmly stuck, unable to move. Despite Chris’s efforts to pull him out, an hour had flown by, Simon was still unable to move and was sinking inexorably. Now the water was up to the top of his neck. Darkness was rapidly approaching and Simon began to shiver badly. There was a risk of hypothermia setting in.
There was nothing for it now but for Chris to run nearly a mile to fetch the farmer. Even he was unable to pull Simon out of the mud. The Fire Service was then called and it was they who managed to save Simon’s life. The ambulance duly arrived and Simon was rushed to hospital with hypothermia.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending; after a couple of hours Simon was released from hospital, a little older but much, much wiser regarding the dangers of water. The story made the national press, including the News of the World.
Most of our canals are ideal fishing locations and are as safe as any fishery can be. It makes them great places to learn to fish or for young people to fish in safety. There is virtually always a flat level area close to the waters’ edge which can safely accommodate the angler’s box.
The majority of our narrow canals have shallow water near the edge with perhaps 60cm depth in the margins and maybe 1.5 metres in the central channel. Some of the ship canals such as the Gloucester & Sharpness and Aire & Calder are much deeper and extra care needs to be taken when fishing on these locations.
Without Chris being there that day, Simon Mottram would definitely not have been with us now to tell his story. To help spread the water safety message, please do share this blog. Who knows, reading this may just help save the life of a fellow angler.
For further information regarding water safety advice, please contact your local fire service.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from The fisheries & angling team