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The charity making life better by water

Summer water safety

On a hot day, it might seem like a great idea to cool down in open water. However, swimming is prohibited in our canals and rivers.

Swimming is prohibited because there are too many risks that you can't see hidden below the surface, and lots of other ways you can cool down with two feet on the towpath.

Depth perception

  • Canals are often shallow, which you can't tell from the surface. If you jump in you are likely to injure yourself, possibly seriously
  • However, don't be fooled by thinking that all canals are shallow. If you can't put your feet on the ground, it'll be much harder to get out. Rivers, reservoirs and docks are generally much deeper, and colder

Hidden dangers under the water

  • Canals are havens for wildlife and maintaining water habitats are an important part of our work. If you're in the water, reeds and other plant life could get tangled around your limbs and trap you in the water making it very difficult to climb out
  • Sadly, rubbish like shopping trolleys can be lurking below the surface of canals and rivers. If you're in the water you could injure yourself by cutting yourself on a rusty old bicycle or broken glass, or get trapped on a larger piece of rubbish, like a trolley or even a motorbike

Cold temperatures

Even on a hot day inland waterways will be colder than you think, particularly reservoirs and docks as they're deeper. The sudden exposure to cold water can cause a number of involuntary bodily reactions - this is cold water shock.

See more information from the RLSS about what cold water can do to your body


Waterborne diseases, including Weil's Disease (leptospirosis), are extremely rare, but if you are swimming you're most exposed to them. If you are likely to come into contact with water it's sensible to take a few precautions:

  • If you've got any cuts or scratches, keep them covered
  • If you fall in, take a shower and treat cuts with antiseptic and a sterile dressing
  • Wash wet clothing before you wear it again
  • If you develop flu-like symptoms within two weeks, see a doctor and mention that you fell in the water. Not all doctors will know to look for signs of Weil's Disease, so do suggest it as a possibility

Canal water is untreated water and so may contain pollution, biological or chemical contaminants. Please bear this in mind when you come into contact with the water and follow basic hygiene measures.

Learning from home

Learning to be safe near water is an important part of a child's education. Take a look at our water safety activities and resources from our Explorers team.

A young boy enjoying the summer

Last Edited: 31 May 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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