Open Water Safety

Around 85% of accidental drownings occur at open water sites. Many of these drownings occur due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of open water safety. The basic principles of open water safety, combined with knowledge and understanding of the hazards, can increase enjoyment of open water and significantly reduce the number of incidents that occur each year.

Open water swimming takes place in outdoor bodies of water such as, lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs and quarries. Flat or still water is defined as water that has minimal movement, except for locally induced wind currents. Examples include lakes, lochs, ponds, quarry pool and reservoirs. Flat water found in lakes and lochs is the safest open water natural environment. However, water is by its very nature hazardous and care must always be taken when being near water margins.

Lakes and Lochs can vary considerably in size, but they are commonly large expanses of deep, cold water, formed when natural basins fill with water flowing from rivers and streams or from the water table.

Open Water Safety Tips

The conditions at open water sites change constantly:

  • Always look for warning and guidance signs
  • Swim parallel with the shore, not away from it
  • Avoid drifting in the currents
  • Do not enter fast flowing water
  • Be aware of underwater hazards
  • Get out of the water as soon as you start to feel cold
  • Never enter the water after consuming alcohol
  • Only enter the water in areas with adequate supervision and rescue cover
  • Always wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket for activities on the water or at the water’s edge (such as when boating or fishing)
  • Always take someone with you when you go into or near water. If something goes wrong they will be able to get help
  • If someone is in difficulty in the water shout reassurance to them and shout for help and call the emergency services (call 999 or 112)
  • Without endangering yourself see if you can reach out to them with a stick, pole or item of clothing – lie down to ensure you stay secure. Alternatively throw something buoyant to them such as a ring buoy or anything that will float

Don’t:

  • Swim at unsupervised (un-lifeguarded sites) including lakes, quarries reservoirs and rivers
  • Jump into the water until you have acclimatised to the water temperature
  • Jump into the water from heights or ‘tombstone’
  • Swim into deep water which will be colder

 

Do:

  • Swim at supervised (lifeguarded) sites
  • Swim parallel with the shore, where you can quickly get to safety
  • Swim with friends or family, so that you can help each other if you need to
  • Look for signs and advice about the specific dangers at the place where you are swimming
  • Think about what you will do if something goes wrong
  • Contact a reputable outdoor pursuits or coasteering centre if you want to take part in more extreme activities

 

Dangers of open water include–

  • The height of the fall or jump if tombstoning
  • The depth of the water – this changes and is unpredictable
  • Submerged objects may not be visible
  • Obstacles or other people in the water
  • Lack of safety equipment and increased difficulty for rescue
  • The shock of cold water can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty in getting out of the water
  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away
  • Uneven banks and river beds
  • Water quality eg toxic algal blooms and industrial/agricultural pollution

All of these hazards can be controlled through proper organisation and planning.

 

If someone is in difficulty in the water –

  • Shout reassurance to them and shout for help and ensure the emergency services are on their way (call 999 or 112)
  • Without endangering yourself, see if you can reach out to them, extend your reach with a stick, pole, item of clothing, lie down or stay secure. Alternatively throw something buoyant to them such as a ring buoy, part filled plastic container, ball or anything that will float.
  • Keep your eye on them all the time and shout reassurance urging them to propel themselves to safety.

Did you know that those that walk or run near water are at potential risk, as this group accounts for the largest proportion of UK drownings.

Top 5 Open Water Safety Tips:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and take notice of any warning signs when out and about
  • When running or walking next to open water, stay well clear of bank edges. They are often unstable and this can create slips, trips and falls
  • Try to always walk or run with a friend
  • Always let someone know where you’re going – take your mobile phone
  • Learn swimming and lifesaving skills

In addition to the above tips, ensure you and your family know the SAFE code:

SPOT

spot the dangers

ADVICE

follow safety signs and advice

FRIEND

stay close to a friend or family member

EMERGENCY

shout for help and know the emergency number to call in the country you’re in