Please don’t be tempted to take a dip in rivers, lakes or canals, whatever the weather. Even good swimmers can be caught out by hidden dangers such as fast currents, deep water, soft mud, weeds or rubbish. Any stretch of water, still or flowing, has the capability to kill.
In warm weather, open water appears to be an inviting, inexpensive way to cool off or exercise. However, open water has potential hazards that aren’t always obvious from the water’s edge. Submerged debris such as rubbish and plant roots can snag on legs or clothing and be difficult to break free from.
The water temperature can be much colder than you expect. Even when it feels warm at the water’s edge, water that is deep enough to swim in can still be cold enough to cause cold water shock, a phenomenon capable of incapacitating competent swimmers.
Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service encourages people who want to swim in open water to only do so with a club or at a designated open water swimming site which may be lifeguarded.
Safety should always be the main consideration, so never swim alone in open water however good a swimmer you are.
Statistically, half of all people who drown never intended to enter the water, having slipped in while cycling, walking, jogging, or returning to boat accommodation.
If you do get into difficulty in the water, remember to fight your instincts, lean back and ‘Float to Live’. Cold water can make you gasp uncontrollably, so count your breaths slowly until your breathing is controlled, then shout for help.
If you see someone in difficulty and there is a flotation device nearby, throw that to them. If no flotation device is to hand, try throwing something that will float such as a ball for the person in the water to hold on to. Stay calm and call for help.
What NOT To Do
- Never swim, even where allowed, after drinking alcohol
- Avoid walking home near water if you have been drinking alcohol. Ideally walk home with a friend
- Don’t dive or jump straight into open water – this can cause potentially fatal cold water shock or you may become injured in shallow water
- Don’t swim near weirs as there may be strong currents or unexpectedly deep water
- Never enter the water to try to rescue someone – call 999 and ask for the fire and rescue service if inland and the coastguard if you are on the coast
What TO Do
- The safest way to swim is in a swimming pool, with an open water club or at a designated open water swimming site.
- Be aware of the risk of cold water shock, a physical response by your body when entering cold water, which can affect your breathing, reduce your muscle ability and can even lead to a heart attack
- If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, don’t panic – extend your arms and legs and float on your back, breath slowly until your breathing is controlled than call for help
- Warn your children of the risks when visiting or passing rivers, canals, lakes and streams, and teach them to ‘Float to Live’
- Keep small children away from ponds and pools in the garden and make sure they are supervised in the bath