Water safety

Around 250 people drown in the UK every year and thousands more suffer injury, some life changing, through near-drowning experiences.

Many of those who drown just happen to be near water – such as runners, walkers and fisherman.

  • 255 people accidentally drowned in 2017
  • 41% (106) of people that accidentally drowned while walking or running – they had no intention of entering the water
  • 71 people aged 15 to 29 drowned in 2015 and 35% (25) of these had alcohol in their system
  • Men (217) are disproportionately represented in the statistics, with young and middle-aged males being particularly affected.
  • The majority of incidents occurred at the coast/shore/beach (68) or on rivers (64).

Safety near open water

We advise people, particularly children and teenagers, not to swim anywhere other than in purpose-built and supervised swimming pools.

Don’t be tempted to cool off in open water when the sun’s out. Entering rivers, canals, ponds, quarries and lakes can have deadly consequences.

Water may feel warm on the surface but just a few feet below can be icy cold. This will reduce the stamina and strength of even the fittest people.

It can also look calm on the surface but hidden undercurrents can pull strong swimmers under the water, and there could be submerged debris that could injure you.

Runners and walkers

  • Stick to proper pathways
  • Avoid walking or running near water in the dark
  • Don’t walk or run next to water if levels are high
  • Look out for trip or slip hazards – pay attention to your footing
  • When running or walking next to water, stay clear of the edges


  • Wear a lifejacket
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone
  • Make sure you let someone know where you are going to fish and what time you are likely to return
  • Double check your fishing spot. Is it safe? Riverbanks can erode and just because it was safe yesterday doesn’t mean it is today
  • Coastal and sea fishing is particularly high risk – make sure you know your spot is safe and you won’t get cut off by the tide

Students and nights out

  • Don’t let a night out end in tragedy – take a safe route home away from water
  • Avoid walking near water even if the path is lit – it’s easy to miss trip hazards or even the water’s edge
  • Stay with your group and don’t wander off
  • Keep an eye on any friends who are worse for wear and help them home
  • Make sure you store a taxi number in your phone and some emergency money at home so you can pay – if it’s at home you can’t lose it or accidentally spend it

Dog walkers

  • Don’t lean into water to try and lift your dog out – you could topple in
  • Never enter the water to try and save a dog – they usually manage to scramble out
  • If your dog loves the water, keep it on a lead to prevent it jumping into hazardous or unsafe areas
  • Remember wet riverbanks, steep edges or jagged rocks can make it hard for dogs to scramble out and they are slip risks for owners
  • Even dogs that like swimming can usually only swim for short bursts – keep an eye on your dog and don’t let it enter the water if it’s older or tired
  • If your dog has struggled in the water it may have inhaled water and should see a vet – dogs can drown after the event if water has entered the lungs

For more water safety advice, visit the Royal Lifesaving Society website.