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The charity making life better by water

There is an increase in numbers of people jumping into our canals and rivers

We're seeing an increase in numbers of people jumping into our canals and rivers and we are issuing a reminder ahead of World Drowning Prevention Day (25 July) asking families to stay SAFE by water.

A young boy enjoying the summer


We are particularly keen to get the message across to families with children, to stay away from the water's edge and safely cool down in other ways as the summer holidays begin. The charity is asking families to stay SAFE near water – Stay Away From the Edge and repeat this message to children will help them remember what to do near water.

This year's summer water safety message is supported by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) and the timely reminder following several deaths in inland waterways and comes as ahead of the inaugural World Drowning Prevention Day, announced by the United Nations earlier this year.

Staying safe this summer

Summer is one of the most popular times of the year for people to visit Britain's canals and rivers. With more people remaining local and holidaying close to home this year and temperatures rising, the Trust expects many of its waterways to be particularly popular.

Last summer the canals were a local outdoor lifeline for many people to escape to during the pandemic, with visits to urban waterways more than doubling as people headed to their local canal or river for their exercise, to get closer to nature, relax and unwind.

Sadly, of the 400 people who drown in the UK every year, more than half the fatalities happen at inland waters such as canals, rivers, lakes, quarries and reservoirs.

What you need to know about our water

We asking people to experience all the safe ways to enjoy the canals during hot weather, but to avoid getting in the water:

  • Canal and river water will be really cold, even in the summer, and emersion in cold water could bring on cold water shock.
  • If you want to jump and dive, head to your local swimming pool. Canals can be shallow and you could hurt yourself if you jump in.
  • Lounge in the shade of waterside trees, rather than get tangled in waterway reeds.
  • Have an ice lolly or a cold drink at a waterside café.
  • Keep your cool – chill out by the water and enjoy the feeling of peacefulness it brings you.

Be aware of the dangers

Sean McGinley, our regional director Yorkshire & North East, explains:

“Spending time on or by water is a lovely way to spend a summer's day and they are excellent places for families to explore during the warm weather. But it's also important that people, especially children and teenagers, are aware of the dangers of cooling off by going for a dip. The consequences can be devastating.

“On a hot day we understand that people might feel like cooling off in a river, canal or reservoir but we strongly advise people to stay out of the water. There are lots of hidden risks that you can't see - submerged obstacles that can cause injury or you can get tangled in, unknown depth and current, and often the water is a lot colder than you think which can lead to shock.

“Please stay away from the edge and don't get in the water, it's just not worth it. If you want to swim outside, find an open water swimming club near you by visiting the Canal & River Trust website.

There are lots of water safety themed activities available for children on our website, a great thing to do when out for a stroll along the canal and a chance to talk to kids about water safety at the same time.”

Committed to protecting the people

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is supporting our campaign, as well as sending out its own messages.

Andy Rose, group manager at WYFRS, said: “Unfortunately, during periods of warm weather we tend to see these figures rise with people entering canals and rivers to cool down and swim.

“As appealing this may seem there are many hidden dangers that have tragically taken lives and I would urge members of the public to think twice before entering due the potential unseen hazards and risks.

“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.”

WYFRS has highlighted the following risks of open water swimming:

  • Cold water shock.
  • Submerged obstacles such as tree branches, rubbish, or even vehicles that may not be visible due to the depth or clarity of the water.
  • Undercurrents, even though it may appear to be still, static water on the surface, there could potentially be undercurrents that have the ability to pin individuals to the bottom of the riverbed.
  • Weirs are to be avoided at all costs. The biggest danger is at the bottom in the form of a ‘stopper.' Here the recirculating current pulls you back towards the falls and pushes you under the water. In some cases, these are impossible to escape.
  • Contamination from unclean/unsafe water leading to illnesses or diseases

Our ‘Explorers' water safety programme focuses on children in Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum. It 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 visiting schools and speaking to youth groups about their local canal or river.

If you'd like to see the free resources available or if you're interested in helping the Trust educate young people about their local canal or river, visit our Explores website.

Last Edited: 20 July 2021

photo of a location on the canals
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