General water safety

Whether it’s the sea, a garden pond, paddling or swimming pool, river or lake, children love to play in and around water!

Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental deaths of those under 16 years of age, particularly during July and August. Unfortunately many victims misjudge how well they can swim, often unaware of how cold the water can be and what this does to their stamina and strength.

Young children can drown in just a couple of inches of water, and most drownings of children aged five or under happen in or around the home.

The RLSS have more information, and you can find out more about pond safety and child holiday swimming pool safety from RoSPA.

Here’s some handy tips, but read down for more advise on beaches, flags and open water swimming:

• NEVER enter the water or try to swim if you’ve had alcohol
• Always take someone with you when you go into, or near, water. If something goes wrong they’ll be able to get help
• If someone’s in difficulty in the water, shout reassurance to them, shout for help and call the emergency services on 999 or 112. If you’re inland ask for the Fire Service, if you’re at the coast ask for the coastguard
• 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
• Encourage them to fight their instinct, relax and float on their back.

Around open water

85% of all drownings in the UK happen in 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 outside the temperature under water surfaces can be so cold it stops your muscles from functioning properly.

Don’t be tempted to take a dip at unsupervised (un-lifeguarded sites) including lakes, quarries, reservoirs and rivers – they’re not suitable for swimming.

Never jump or dive straight into open water, the surface of the water might look calm, but underneath there could be currents, unknown depths, hazardous objects or pollution – all of which may stop your ability to swim or self-rescue

Even on a hot day the water temperature can stay cold, so jumping or diving in can cause cold water shock. This can kill, whether or not you’re a good swimmer.

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.

At the beach

The most common time for children to have an accident on holiday is in the first hour, when parents are usually unpacking and might be distracted.

Speak to your travel agent or locals to find out the safest times to enter the sea, and make sure you’ve had a look around for any dangers yourself.

Never swim on your own, and avoid swimming near or diving from things such as piers or rocks. Should you find yourself in trouble, put your hand in the air and shout for help.

If you see someone in danger who needs help, always call for help and ring 999 to ask for the fire service or coastguard.

You should never attempt a rescue yourself, as you could also put yourself at risk. Instead, try finding something that can help them float such as a life ring or another object that would float.

If you’re planning to visit a beach, look for one with lifeguards. Details of lifeguarded beaches can be found on the RNLI website (


If the beach you’re at is not lifeguarded, please take extra care if you are going into the water. If lifeguards are on patrol, then you’ll need to know your flags: