Water safety advice

During the school holidays, and in particular in hot weather, increasing numbers of children are drowning. On average, there are 50 of these tragedies each year in the UK.

Keep reading to see our top tips on how to stay safe around open water.

Open water can be dangerous

There are many potential hazards when you're near or in open water such as rivers, lakes, canals, and the sea:

  • The water is often far deeper than people think.

  • It’s very cold, and can quickly cause cramp and breathing difficulties.

  • It may contain hidden rubbish and debris such as shopping trolleys and broken glass which can cause injuries and drowning.

  • Sometimes it can be polluted and makes them very ill.

  • Banks can be slippery - most people who end up in the water never intended to enter it.

Lancashire Fire And Rescue Service – Water Safety

Swimming in open water can be great for exercise and a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors. But it can also be very dangerous. Many people who get into trouble never intended to enter the water in the first place, so be sure to take extra care when walking or jogging alongside waterways.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service discourages anyone to swim in canals, rivers, lakes, quarries, the sea or any other open water who is not part of an organised swimming group. Click here to find a swimming group near you (opens in a new window).

Remember: if you spot anyone in trouble in the water, call 999 right away.

Many people sadly lose their lives in the UK in and around water each year. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of dangers you can face.

Below, you’ll see find information about how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe around lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs and more.

If you get into difficulty

Anyone can get into difficulty in the water, even if they are a strong swimmer. It is very important to respect the water and be mindful that the worst can happen at any time. If you are entering the water and find yourself struggling, remember: float to live. By lying flat on your back and remaining as calm as possible, you can stay afloat and able to breathe for longer.

This video by the RNLI shows how cold water shock can quickly take hold, and why it helps to respect the water and float to live.

More information is available on the RNLI website (opens in a new window).

Dangers around the water

Let’s take a look at seven things to watch out for:

  1. Slippery banks – the banks on rivers and lakes can be very slippery, making it hard to exit the water.

  2. Waste – unfortunately, some people dump their rubbish into our waterways. This can harm you if you touch sharp or entangling objects.

  3. Pollution – some waterways contain dangerous chemicals which can hurt you.

  4. Currents – underwater currents can be very strong and sweep you away from safety within seconds.

  5. Cold temperatures – open water in the UK remains cold all year round. This can cause your muscles to stop working properly. It can also make you gasp for air, potentially causing you to breathe in water.

  6. Water levels – the depth of open water changes drastically. This can make wading treacherous, and means you should never dive in without knowing the water’s depth.

  7. No lifeguard – swimming in the great outdoors means that you may be very isolated and that nobody will be there to help if things go wrong.

If you want to go swimming, it is much safer to go to a purpose-built swimming pool with a lifeguard present at all times.

Additional resources

HM Coastguard

Click here to view Coastguard safety advice (opens in a new window).

Click here to view HM Coastguard resources (opens in a new window).

RNLI (The Royal National Lifeboat Institution)

Click here to view RNLI water safety advice (opens in a new window).

Click here to view RNLI Education Resources (opens in a new window).

RLSS (Royal Lifesaving Society)

Click here to view RLSS water safety advice (opens in a new window).

Click here to view RLSS education resources (opens in a new window).

RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)

Click here for RoSPA water safety and drowning advice (opens in a new window).

United Utilities

Click here to view United Utilities guidance on reservoir safety (opens in a new window).

Canal & River Trust

Click here to view Canal & River Trust waterway safety advice (opens in a new window).