Safer summer waters

As the warm summer months beckon, we encourage everyone to enjoy our canals and rivers safely. They are wonderful places to spend time and we want everyone to come back time and time again. That’s why this summer sees the launch of a new #RespectTheWater campaign, run by the National Water Safety Forum, of which we are a member. Waterfront spoke to water safety campaigns manager, Claire Gauci to find out how we can all play our part in stopping deaths from drowning.

A Canal & River Trust worker stood next to the canal, explaining water safety to a group of school children Teaching water safety on the canal in Leeds

“When you look at the UK as a whole, not just our canals and rivers, around 400 people still drown every year,” Claire tells us with compassion. “Just like deaths on our roads, sadly no-one can stop accidents happening completely, but many of these tragedies are preventable, so we have to do all we can to help drive those numbers down. The National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) aims to reduce drowning deaths by 50% over the next four years and the Trust is committed to work as part of the NWSF to support the messages.”

Claire explains that the forum brings together well-known water safety organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) and the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS). Along with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Environment Agency and navigation authorities like ourselves. The emergency services from around the UK are also involved, as are sporting organisations such as Swim England and the British Sub-Aqua Club.

"Each organisation brings different experiences, challenges, insights, skills and opportunities to the table,” says Claire. “But as a Forum, we are now clearly focused on one goal. Preventing unnecessary deaths from drowning.

One of the first things we need to do is shift public perceptions. You might think most drownings happen off our coasts and beaches, but a large number also happen inland. Sadly, as more of us holidayed at home during lockdown, the number of incidents and fatalities also increased.”

“Behind every one of these statistics lie real people who have had their lives cut short,” says Claire with feeling. “Real families who have been torn apart. We all need to be more aware what to do if you find yourself in the water. Or how to help if you see someone in difficulty.”

Spread the word about
water safety

  • If you get into trouble in the in the water, Float to Live. Lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float, then get control of your breathing before calling for help or swimming to safety.

  • If you see someone in the water, don’t get in to help them. Call 999 and ask for the Fire Service inland or the Coastguard on the coast.

  • If your dog gets in the water, don’t get in after it. Encourage it to swim to you.

Canal & River Trust workers stood next to the canal, explaining water safety to a group of school children Valuable lessons that will last a lifetime

Swimming is prohibited on our waterways and reservoirs (unless under an authorised open water swimming club). Yet with 2,000 miles of canals and rivers to look after, our staff and volunteers can’t be everywhere, all the time. “That’s why we need the millions of people who enjoy our waterways to join in and be our eyes and ears, especially on the hottest days of the year,” says Claire. She explains that the early weeks of the summer holidays are a particular flash-point every year. And the message directly needs to reach teenage boys in urban areas who are often tempted to jump in during warm weather. That’s why there’s plans for a digital campaign aimed directly at this age group to underline that cooling down in water is simply not cool.

Claire continues: “Part of the reason we also offer so many free ‘Let’s Events’ is that they offer an affordable alternative way to enjoy the water safely. Our teams will also be on the towpath on the hottest days, offering ice creams to passers-by and getting the message out about enjoying time by the water and staying safe.” 

A man cycles a mobile ice-cream cart with Canal & River Trust insignia Sharing the story of water safety is vital in hot weather

As summer turns to autumn, the focus turns to supporting the RLSS campaign a ‘Don’t drink and drown’ message as the number of late-night incidents involving younger men aged 20-29 increases. But behind our seasonal campaigns is an all-year round effort to start young by introducing water safety messages to primary and secondary school age children, through our Explorers programme.

From encouraging people to take swimming lessons, to keeping people safe inland and on our coasts, or as part of recreational angling, sailing, canoeing and other water sports, the National Water Safety Forum is doing all it can to spread the word about safety. And we hope you’ll help let your friends and family know that time by the water is wonderful, when you know how to stay safe.

Last date edited: 30 May 2022

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