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We are asking teenagers to stay out of the water this half term

We are urging teenagers to stay out of canals, rivers, reservoirs and docks during half term and after exams finish.

The summer months are the most popular times for people to visit Britain's canals and rivers and we are expecting many of our canals and rivers to be particularly popular. However, 60% of the accidental water-related deaths in 2022 happened in inland waters such as canals, rivers, lakes, quarries and reservoirs. 83% of accidental deaths were male.

The hidden dangers

There are hidden dangers under the surface of the water:

  • Docks, reservoirs, canals and rivers will be really cold, even in the summer. The sudden exposure to cold water can cause several involuntary bodily reactions - this is cold water shock. One reaction is to gasp, meaning you'll suck in water, which could cause you to drown.
  • Canals can be shallow and you could seriously hurt yourself if you jump from a bridge, while locks are a lot deeper than expected.
  • Reeds and plant life can tangle around limbs making it harder to move and exit the water.
  • Unfortunately, there can be items such as shopping trolleys in the water which could cause serious injury if landed upon.

Being aware of the dangers

Anne Gardner-Aston, our director of health & safety, explains: “Canals and rivers are lovely relaxing places to spend time during the warm weather, but it's important that children and teenagers are aware of the dangers of cooling off by going for a dip with friends. The consequences can be devastating, and every year lives are lost and families devastated because young people die whilst swimming and jumping into open water.

“Inland waters, like canals, rivers, reservoirs and docks can look really inviting, but you can't tell what is below the surface. The water often isn't clear, you won't be able to see the depth or any obstacles in the water, and even on a hot day the water can be extremely cold – these dangers may affect you even if you consider yourself a strong swimmer. Jumping into rivers or canals from bridges is extremely risky and can cause nasty, and sometimes fatal, injuries. If you want to swim, go to a pool or find an open water swimming club near you by visiting our website.

“You may be glad to have finished your exams but please don't celebrate by swimming and jumping into canals, reservoirs and rivers. It's not worth the risk. If you see a friend in difficulty, follow the advice of #RespectTheWater.”

Respect the water

We are a member of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), a UK-wide network of water safety organisations working together to reduce water-related deaths. #RespecttheWater is the partnership campaign run by the NWSF and aims to provide simple life-saving advice to help members of the public take personal responsibility for their own and their family's safety, with a focus on knowing how to help other people in trouble.

If you see someone else in trouble in the water this summer, remember Call, Tell, Throw:

  • Call 999 – ask for Fire & Rescue if inland or the Coastguard if by the sea.
  • Tell the struggling person to try to float on their back.
  • Throw them something that floats.

Dawn Whittaker, NWSF Chair & CFO East Sussex Fire Rescue Service said: “In 2022, 226 people accidentally drowned. These devastating numbers are an annual tragic reminder about the importance of raising awareness of water safety and drowning prevention, so we urge the public to understand the dangers and to learn the importance of knowing what to do in an emergency: if you see someone in trouble in the water, the best way you can help is by staying calm, staying on land, and following the 3-step rescue guide – Call, Tell, Throw.”

For younger children, our ‘Explorers' water safety programme, which focuses on children in Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum, aims to help children learn about and enjoy their local canal or river safely. It can also be used towards a number of Cub Scout and Brownie badges. Dozens of volunteers nationwide help us 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 us educate young people about their local canal or river, visit our Explorers website.

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Last Edited: 26 May 2023

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