Winter Water Safety

Winter is especially dangerous because of the temptation to play on ice formed over open water, rivers or canals. It's risky for everyone, but both children and pets are especially at risk, as well as adults who might attempt to rescue them.



How to stay safe in winter: the dangers of frozen or icy cold water

It is extremely dangerous to play or walk on open water or canals covered in ice.

It’s risky for people of all ages, but especially children. Adults may be tempted to rescue them, or even dogs and other animals which stray on to the ice.

Although frozen lakes, ponds, canals and reservoirs can look picturesque during the winter months, please do not be tempted to venture into the water or on to ice.

If you get into difficulty, or see someone else in trouble, here are some important emergency tips.

For general water safety advice, visit our water safety page.

Teach children not to go on the ice

Teach children not to go on to ice under any circumstances.

Keep dogs on their leads

Keep dogs on their leads when near ice and don’t throw sticks or toys onto the ice.

Only use well-lit areas

Time your walks to make the most of the daylight. If you need to walk when it’s dark, only use well-lit areas and avoid waterside routes.

Don’t go on the ice to rescue a dog

Don’t go onto ice or into the water to rescue a dog. Move to somewhere where the dog will be able to climb out and call them towards you.

Keep back from the edge

If you do walk near water, stay away from the edge.

What to do if YOU fall through ice:

  • Stay calm and shout for help
  • Spread your arms out across the surface of the ice in front of you
  • First check if the ice is strong enough. If it is, then kick your legs to propel yourself forward
  • Lie flat and use your arms to pull yourself over the ice towards the shore
  • If the ice on the water breaks, try to make your way to the bank or shore, breaking ice in front of you as you go
  • If you find yourself stuck and unable to escape, wait for help. Stay as still as possible to conserve your energy. Bring your arms close to your sides and keep your legs together, while keeping your head out of the water
  • When you’re safely out of the water it's important to go to a hospital for a check-up.

What to do if you see SOMEONE ELSE fall through the ice:

Shout for help, call 999 or 112 and – if the incident involves inland water – ask for the fire service

  • Do not go on to ice to attempt a rescue
  • Call out to the casualty and encourage them to stay calm
  • To try to reach the person from the bank, use a rope, pole, tree branch, clothes tied together or anything else that can extend your reach
  • Lie down flat on the bank, to avoid slipping or being pulled in
  • If you can’t reach them, try sliding something that floats – like a football or large plastic bottle – to them, to help them float
  • If the casualty is too far away, DO NOT try to rescue them yourself.
  • Wait for the emergency services to arrive. Continue to calm and reassure the person.
Close up of frozen water on the surface of a lake with an embankment in the distance

After the casualty has been rescued from the ice or water:

  • Ensure the ambulance service are on their way
  • Lay the casualty flat. Begin CPR if necessary and you know how
  • Keep them warm with clothing and blankets and try to shelter them from the cold
  • Leave them in their clothes until you reach a safe, warm location
  • Don't rub their skin, never apply hot water bottles and do not give them alcohol
  • Keep the casualty wrapped up, so they gradually warm up.