The charity making life better by water

Fancy a dip? Cold water can take your life

We are urging people to stay out of the water this summer. As the temperature heats up, the temptation to cool off in a local waterway increases, but so do the dangers.

Summer is one of the most popular times for people to visit Britain's canals and rivers, and last year was the busiest on record with more than 385 million visits made by boaters, cyclists, runners, walkers and canoeists. However, when the weather warms, the temperature of the water remains very cold and while the temptation to cool off in a local waterway increases, so do the risks.

Mel Goodship's 17 year old son James drowned in June 2014 while swimming with friends in Foulridge Reservoir, Lancashire. Mel says: "James used to mess around in the water with his friends; he was a strong swimmer so we just thought he'd be fine. We had never sat our children down and explained the dangers of the water, I didn't really know what they were myself. The shock of the cold water paralyzed his muscles, took his energy and took his life.

"Learning about water safety is as important as learning about road safety and not talking to strangers. If you're thinking about getting into any stretch of water which isn't supervised, please don't. Don't be another statistic like James. Don't get in the water, it's just not worth it."

We are urging visitors to remember that although they may be fit and strong on land, you can't train your body for the shocks of unseen dangers under the water. The risks include:

  • Low temperatures which can cause the body to go into cold shock and even hypothermia, drawing the blood away from your muscles to protect your organs. This can lead to drowning.
  • Reeds and other plant life which can get tangled around limbs and keep you in the water.
  • Rubbish, like shopping trolleys, which can trap your feet as well as cause injury.
  • Canal and river water is usually murky so you can't see the depth – it could be much shallower than you expect it to be and cause serious harm if someone jumps in, as well as being much deeper than expected in other areas.
  • There are waterborne diseases such as Leptospirosis (Weil's disease).

Tony Stammers, who heads up the Canal & River Trust's safety team explains: "Canals and rivers are brilliant places to go to on hot days, and excellent for families to explore during the holidays – I'd encourage anyone to make a visit this summer. But it's also important that people, especially children, are aware of the dangers of cooling off by going for a dip. We always urge parents to make sure their children know how to stay safe.

"Inland waters such as canals, rivers and reservoirs may look inviting on a hot summer's day, but any open body of water can pose a hazard as the water can often be extremely cold and can bring on cramps in even the strongest swimmers. You just can't train your body for the effects of the cold water and the other hidden dangers lurking beneath the surface like reeds or rubbish which swimmers could get caught up in."

The Trust has worked with Pendle Triathlon Club at Foulridge Reservoir in Lancashire, where James died, to highlight the risks of swimming without the right gear. Triathletes and open water swimmers have wet suits, buoyancy aids and a safety team around them and even with their training, they wouldn't attempt to get in the water without that support.

The Canal & River Trust ‘Explorers' water safety programme, which focuses on children in Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum, aims to help young people learn about and enjoy their local canal or river safely and can also be used towards a number of Cub Scout and Brownie badges. Dozens of volunteers nationwide help the Trust each year by going into schools and speaking to youth groups about their local canal or river.

Last Edited: 10 August 2016

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