HEATWAVE: Warning over drowning hazards

People have been warned about the dangers of swimming in rivers and reservoirs
People have been warned about the dangers of swimming in rivers and reservoirs

People looking to cool off in the current hot spell have been warned about the dangers of swimming in rivers, reservoirs, and canals.

The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), the drowning prevention charity, has issued a warning as temperatures across Britain are set to hit a scorching 35C. 

The charity has appealed for people to take note of simple safety messages to avoid a repeat of last summer’s tragedies when many people lost their lives cooling off in unlifeguarded open water, not suitable for swimming.

Figures released from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), of which RLSS UK is a partner, earlier this month revealed that the peak summer months of July and August witnessed the most deaths in 2014. 

So, with temperatures on the rise, it is important people make the most of the weather and enjoy the water but do so safely at sites designated for swimming. 

RLSS UK’s Director of Volunteer and Community Education, Mike Dunn, said: “Last year saw a tragic amount of preventable deaths as people flocked to open water sites not suitable for swimming. These sites included rivers, quarries, lakes and reservoirs – all of which have many dangers including very cold water, currents, obstacles and uneven depths. They look so inviting but can be deadly.

“Being aware of the basic principles of open water safety, combined with knowledge and understanding of the hazards, can increase enjoyment and significantly reduce the number deaths each year. 

“Any drowning is a tragedy but the number of people who lost their lives last summer was not only extremely sad but extremely worrying.” 

Figures show the age group with the highest number of fatalities (27) in 2014 were men aged between 20 and 24. Meanwhile, 0 to 19-year-olds accounted for 11 per cent of deaths (38), of which more than half were teenagers aged 15 to 19 (21). 

Leading activities people were taking part in when they drowned included swimming (predominantly in open water) and jumping into open water.

And in response, June 20 – 28 this year saw RLSS UK’s annual campaign, Drowning Prevention Week, focus not only on primary school aged children but young men and boys. The campaign saw the release of ‘Beneath the Surface – the families’ stories’ where a number of brave families speak out about how a loved-one drowning had affected them. It can be viewed on the RLSS UK YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/1emYROT .

This latest warning comes following two deaths on Saturday (27 June) where a 32-year-old man who drowned after getting into difficulty in the water in the Lake District’s Lake Windermere and 42-year-old Jason North who died in the water at Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea after entering the water because he thought his children were in danger. 

Chantelle Aston’s brother, 15-year-old Richard Fellows (known as Porky) drowned on 16 March last year when he got into difficulties after swimming with two friends in river pool that forms part of the River Arrow in Redditch, Worcestershire.

She said: “With the weather reaching soaring temperatures, I know kids and young adults will be looking for ways to enjoy the heat. I would just ask them to think twice before going into open water and think what happened to Porky. He was a strong swimmer and it only took seconds for him to get into difficulty. Please, parents and children, listen to the advice which could save lives this summer.”

Mike added: “We want people to enjoy water, but safely and sensibly – using their common sense and listening to advice. Do not be tempted to cool off in open water, we do not want another summer of tragedy.”