Water safety  

Councils, as community leaders play a key role in tackling water safety. This includes working with statutory partners in the Fire and Rescue Service and police as well as water safety experts like the RNLI to assess and respond to risks locally. Councils also play a key role in educating residents about the risks posed by water.  

In 2020, 254 people lost their lives in accidental drownings in the UK, with hundreds more having near drowning experiences, sometimes suffering life-changing injuries. Children can be particularly at risk. 

One of the striking characteristics of the data on accidental drownings is that a large proportion of victims did not leave home on the day they died intending to go into water of significant depth. In 2020 nearly twice as many deaths happened whilst people were out walking or running, compared to those who died whilst swimming.  

There has been a small increase in the total number of drownings over the last few years including the number of suicides in water over the past few years which accounted for more than a third of drownings in 2020. 

Water safety resources 

Maritime and Coastguard Agency 

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Transport, which is responsible for producing legislation and guidance on maritime matters, and provides certification to seafarers. 

The MCA have published a useful guide on managing beach safety to assist coastal local authorities and others who are in effective control of the beach, to help keep people safe by assessing the risks and preventing incidents. 

The MCA also hold data on all coastal incidents that HM Coastguard attended including fatalities, rescues and incidents on or close the water. Data is broken down by Maritime Zones and whilst these do not follow county or local authority boundaries, data can be aligned to local authority areas and is a useful resource to inform coastal safety planning. Requests for data can be made to HMCG.CommunitySafety@mcga.gov.uk  

Respect the Water - National drowning prevention campaign 

Respect the Water is a national drowning prevention campaign. Started by RLNI the campaign has now been adopted by the NWSF and they have developed useful resources and advice on their website highlighting risks, how to avoid them as well as safety advice and campaign assets which councils can utilise.


 The COVID-19 pandemic has meant beaches have been even busier than normal and this has in some cases led to issues of overcrowding, littering and anti-social behaviour which have been a challenge for councils to manage.    

In response to these challenges, the NWSF has developed a useful guide for coastal beach managers and landowners on Maintaining the safety of the public and staff on beaches during Covid-19. The guidance reflects experiences of members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) during the pandemic and includes practical considerations around management of social distancing at he beach and risk assessments. 

LGA Coastal Special Interest Group 

The LGA Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) champions and represents the collective interests of coastal, estuarine, and maritime communities by increasing awareness and debate on environmental, economic and social issues at all levels in relation to the coast. More information about the group and how to become is on the Coastal SIG’s website

Media releases, briefings and legislation


Don't put lives at risk: councils issue COVID-19 heatwave warning

'Tombstoning' youngsters risk leaping to their deaths, councils and fire chiefs warn

Heatwave: bathers warned of drowning risk following recent deaths

Briefings, responses, legislation & guides

Improving the swimming and life-saving skills of children provided through schools, House of Lords, 6 March 2019