Water Safety

Water safety is an issue which affects all council areas. Only eight English counties had fewer than three drownings in 2015.

The LGA is working with the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) to reduce the number of drownings in England and Wales.

More people drown in the UK than die in fires at home - on average around 400 a year (excluding suicides).

Most of those who drown can swim. The majority of victims in 2015 did not leave home on the day they died intending to go into water of significant depth.  Over half the fatalities recorded for 2015 involved victims who either entered the water on the spur of the moment to assist an animal or person or to retrieve an object, entered accidentally while running, walking or cycling, or were playing beside water or paddling in shallows. In fact, more people drown while out walking or running than while swimming.

Eighty-three per cent of drownings involve men with the19-29 age group is most at risk. A third of drownings involve alcohol.

National Water Safety Forum

The NWSF is a UK-wide association of organisations that have an interest in and responsibility for water safety including sports governing bodies, rescue services, regulators, navigation and harbour authorities, local government, utilities, and other representative groups.

The Forum works in partnership with Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) the Chief Fire Officers' Association, and around 80 local authorities.

The Forum has produced the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-26, which aims to reduce drownings by 50 per cent by 2026.

The Strategy's initial three-year phase will address the following targets:

  • Every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim and receive water safety education at primary school and where required at Key Stage 3.
  • Every community with water risks should have a community-level risk assessment and water safety plan.
  • To better understand water-related self-harm.
  • Increase awareness of everyday risks in, on and around the water.
  • All recreational activity organisations should have a clear strategic risk assessment and plans that address key risks.

The NWSF also provides the Water Incident Database (WAID) designed to provide comprehensive information on risks from water-based activities.

We recently asked councils that are members of our Coastal Special Interest Group to tell us about their experience of Beach safety issues and how they were addressing them. Here is a selection of comments from the responses we received:

"We have had an historical problem with mainly working class males going into the sea without due regard to the tides & off-shore wind. We encounter visitors, & locals, trying to walk around the shoreline and they invariably get caught out by the tide …, people just do not know about the tides or understand them, e.g. "Where's the water gone?"

"Many beach users are not familiar with tides and weather conditions."

"A particular problem we've had is with an unstable area of cliffs. There have been conventional warning signs there for a long time (conventional yellow warning triangles) but these didn't appear to deter everyone. So we've been using photographs of the actual hazard. Its early days, but feedback so far has been positive."

"We are well aware of tidal issues which it can present a danger to the public including sinking sand and rip tides."  

"Most of the rescues that I was involved in, was for inflatables drifting out too far. Bathers do not tie them to the shore, have no means of communication & often cannot swim."

"Parents should be going into the water with their children, & not just watching from the beach – just because a lifeguard is present doesn't mean nothing is going to happen." 

"We do sometimes have issues with visitors walking out onto the sandbanks where they become cut off by the tide.We were aware that this was a risk to visitors, we already had signage on main displays, each entrance point and on the wooden groynes… Our Resort Operations Manager increased the presence of the beach patrol team on the tide line at low tide and subsequent incoming tide, adding additional patrols to warn individuals of the dangers of heading out to the sand banks."

For more information and advice from the NWSF on water safety you can go to:





Durham – dying to be cool 

We are asking councils to send us examples of water safety campaigns and ideas, so we can learn from each other. Please contact Charles.Loft@local.gov.uk

2 February 2017