Emergency services and local authorities across Yorkshire have joined forces to highlight the dangers of open water swimming and the importance of staying safe this summer.
The warning comes after the recent hot weather led to a series of tragic water incidents both on beaches, and in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and canals.
The heatwave over the last few weeks has led people to look for ways to cool off, including in bodies of unsupervised open water.
However, doing so unaware of the dangers that come with swimming in these areas leads to many people quickly finding themselves in trouble.
In response to the recent tragic incidents, over 30 organisations in Yorkshire have come together for the first time to drive home the importance of being water-wise and understanding how to be safe in and around water.
This includes all Fire and Rescue Services, Police forces and Local Resilience Forums across Yorkshire, together with several Local Authorities, Yorkshire Water, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the Environment Agency, Canal & River Trust, HM Coastguard, the RNLI, the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) and Outdoor Swimming Society.
They are all backing a campaign as part of West Yorkshire Prepared, to increase awareness of the dangers of open water swimming for inexperienced people.
Dave Walton, Deputy Chief Fire Officer for WYFRS and co-Chair of West Yorkshire Prepared, said: “Unfortunately, as many people will have seen in the news, there has been a marked increase in the number of tragic water incidents recently, which have required the assistance of emergency services across Yorkshire.
“Sadly, in most cases, these incidents would have been preventable if more people were aware of the multitude of hazards when entering open water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs, canals, rivers and the sea.”
From Summer 2020 to now, there have been at least 180 inland water incidents across Yorkshire. Of which there have been 18 fatalities.
West Yorkshire Prepared says that spreading awareness and knowledge of the hazards of open water – both inland and at the coast – could help to drastically reduce the number of people who get into difficulty each year.
As part of the campaign drive, the organisations have shared some key messages
To remember when entering or considering entering open water:
- Do not drink and dive – Alcohol and swimming do not mix! Alcohol badly affects judgement, swimming ability and body temperature.
- Stick together – whether they swim with you or watch from the shore, always make sure you have someone with you who can call for help if you get into difficulties. Always keep an eye on non-swimmers and children, even in shallow areas as they may unexpectedly drop off steeply.
- Read the signs – Read the signs! If the landowner has put signage up saying the water isn’t safe to enter please take notice. There could be dangerous currents, obstacles or poor water quality, even if it looks okay on the surface.
- Acclimatise – cold water shock kills – As hot as it may be on land, water bodies in Yorkshire remain very cold all year round. Jumping or diving into cold water can cause a gasp reflex, which may cause you to inhale water, followed by rapid breathing (hyperventilation) which can lead to panic and possibly drowning. Paddling/wading gives your body the chance to adjust to the temperature and helps reduce the risk.
- What lies beneath – Unexpected obstacles, machinery, strong rips or currents and hidden depths are all dangers to experienced and non-experienced swimmers alike.
- If in doubt, stay out – if you’re at all unsure of the water temperature, depth or quality, or don’t know if there are hidden dangers (e.g. obstacles, currents), don’t risk it. Swim at a lifeguarded area instead.
Additionally, they highlight the importance of remembering to choose beaches with lifeguards, adhering to local warning flags and signs, and making sure you are aware of tide times if you are going to swim in the sea.
If you get caught in a rip current in the sea, don’t try to swim against it –follow the RNLI’s Float to Live advice.
‘Simple but important advice’
Nick Ayers, Regional Water Safety Lead at the RNLI, said: “If you do decide to go swimming – whether in open water or at a swimming pool – and end up getting into difficulty, the simplest but most important advice is Float to Live.
“Fight your instinct to thrash around. Lean back and extend your arms and legs. Float until you can control your breathing. Only then, call for help or swim to safety.
“If you see someone in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112. If you’re at the coast, ask for the Coastguard. If you’re inland, ask for the fire service.”
To take part in open water swimming safely there are many local outdoor swimming clubs and groups who can offer advice on the safest way to take part in the activity such as The Outdoor Swimming Society.
The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) website also has information on water safety lessons, including resources and toolkits for children and families, which are all free to access.
RLSS UK’s Charity Director, Lee Heard, said: “As tempting as it may be to go for a quick dip on a hot day, open water swimming can be dangerous even for the most experienced swimmers due to a multitude of hazards.
“If you’re at all unsure, the best advice is to stay out of the water or find a swimming area with lifeguards.”