As the UK prepare to enjoy a mini-heatwave, we urge people to stay safe by water

With the UK temperatures set to soar late this week as parts of Yorkshire & North East England reach highs of up to 30 degrees, we are asking people to stay safe by water, avoid open water swimming in their local canals, rivers and reservoirs and seek alternative ways to cool down.

No swimming signs on wall at Leeds Lock No swimming sign at Leeds Lock

A massive increase in usage

The initiative is supported by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS).

Britain’s historic canal towpaths saw a massive increase in usage during lockdown as people stayed local and discovered these green/blue linear parks on their doorstep. Post lock-down, for the eight million people living by a canal, this trend has continued with usage up by up to 240%.

We look after 316 miles of waterways and five reservoirs in Yorkshire & North East England runs regular campaigns to alert people to the dangers of swimming in inland waterways.

John Gibson, our area operations manager, explains: “We’ve seen more people than ever relaxing and reaping the health benefits of spending time by water. With bright skies and warm sunshine forecast from tomorrow we’re expecting our waterways and reservoirs to be popular”.

He added: “We are welcoming people to the waterside but are particularly concerned about people enjoying a post-lockdown drink and then going for a dip, young people and children who could be unaware of the hidden dangers of swimming in our waterways.”

Water safety

The coronavirus lockdown has impacted the delivery of our ‘Explorerswater safety summer programme which helps young people in schools learn how to enjoy their local canal or river safely, however we are sharing our message through a targeted online campaign. We have also been working with emergency partners within Wakefield District who are working collectively to keep the community safe and pro-actively finding solutions around water signage and water safety measures in hot spot areas.

We have been working closely with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and other key stakeholders in Wakefield in response to recent incidents involving open water and local concerns about people jumping off canal bridges and footbridges into local waterways, lagoons and ponds as well as taking part in open water swimming regardless of the dangers presented.  

Donna Wagner, Wakefield’s District Prevention Manager at West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, said: “By bringing together key partners such as police, council, youth services as well as Canal & River Trust, we are tackling the dangers of open water swimming with a cohesive strategy for the whole of Wakefield. 

“We are committed to protecting the people of West Yorkshire, and are working with other authorities to implement measures now and in the future to continue to keep people safe.”

Alternative ways to cool down

We are highlighting other ways to cool down that avoid getting in the water:

  • Lounge in the shade of waterside trees rather than getting tangled in waterway reeds.
  • Keep your cool – chill out on the bank and enjoy the peacefulness of being beside water.
  • If you want to jump and dive, wait for your local swimming pool to open, don’t get in locks or canals which can be shallow and have obstructions below the waterline
  • Cool down with an ice-lolly, drink or ice-cream at a waterside café.

To date 125,000 children over the past four years have benefited from the Trust’s water safety Explorers programme, which focuses on children in Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum. To help with water safety education at home the Explorers team has compiled a range of free activities, resources and games which can be found on the Explorers wesbite.