Around 270 people accidentally drown in the UK each year. And statistics show that around 50% of people who drown had no intention of entering the water.
Here’s what to do if you fall into deep water:
- float to live - lie on your back and float - take a look at RLNI's (The Royal National Lifeboat Institution) Float to Live campaign
- resist the instinct to panic or swim
- lie back and keep your airways clear, push your stomach up and extend your limbs, moving hands and feet to help you float
- try to take control of the effects of cold water shock, such as the gasping reflex. Once your breathing is controlled call for help and, if possible, try making your way to safety.
What to do if someone falls into deep water:
- call 999 and ask for the fire service, if you're inland such as in the West Midlands, or the coastguard if you're at the coast. If you don’t have a phone, shout for help – but do not enter the water
- encourage the person in the water to try to float on their back – and, if there’s rescue equipment nearby, throw it to them
- never enter the water to try to save someone – you could well suffer from cold water shock yourself, which will leave you unable to help even if you’re a strong swimmer.
For more information on water safety, the RLSS has some great resources.
Open water safety
Of all drownings in the UK, 62% (in 2021) happen in inland open water such as rivers, canals, lakes, quarries and reservoirs. You might be tempted to go for a dip to cool off but, whilst it might be warm out of the water, the temperature beneath the surface can be so cold you can get cold water shock. This can cause you to gasp and stop your muscles from working properly preventing your ability to swim.
Never jump or dive straight into the water. This can cause cold water shock and under the surface could be currents, unknown depths, hazardous objects or pollution – all of which may stop you from being able to swim or get to safety.
If you still decide to enter the water and you start to feel cold, you must get out. Hypothermia will reduce your muscle strength and ability to swim.
Before you get in, make sure you’re familiar with the area including signs and advice, and think about what you might do if things go wrong. If you can see fast-flowing water, DON’T get in – currents can quickly sweep people away.
Again, some great advice on the RNLI website covers the key risks and how you can mitigate them.
Although much of our water safety information here focuses on water safety, particularly in warmer months, we have a specialist section covering water safety during the winter. Visit our winter water safety page for further information.