Keep safe in the water on holiday

Now that spring has sprung, thousands of UK families will be itching to take their Hawaiian shirts out of mothballs for some sun-soaked holiday fun. For all those lucky enough to be jetting off to exciting locations this summer, here’s just a word to the wise.

Before scouring the High Street or internet for last-minute travel deals, why not prepare some potentially life-saving questions? If you intend to accompany a child on your trip, asking the right questions to the right people could prove vital.

RoSPA research shows that from 2003-09, 67 British children, aged 0 to 17, drowned while on holiday abroad.

Though the deaths occurred in 19 countries across the world, most happened in the popular European destinations of: Spain (26), France (9), and Greece and the Greek Islands (7).

Of the 67 deaths, 26 occurred in hotel pools, 15 in the sea and 11 in private swimming pools, for example at villas.

The best time to ask questions is while booking:

  • Holiday specialists should know how appropriate their properties are for children, so ask them about swimming pools or any other safety-related issues
  • For hotels or apartments, check if the pool uses lifeguards (but remember: “pool attendants” are not always trained lifeguards)
  • If you prefer a villa, ask if the pool has fencing with lockable gates: think twice if it doesn’t.

Taking your children swimming in the months before and teaching them about water safety is also recommended. See for tips.

And, if you’ve never learned first aid, why not investigate local courses?

If you have already booked your break, don’t worry: you can still ask questions when you arrive – holiday reps and staff at your accommodation are normally more than happy to help.

When you arrive, take time to check the pool layout and the location of emergency rescue equipment. Also, be aware that a significant number of pool drownings happen on the first or last day of the holiday, perhaps when parents have been distracted with arrival or departure arrangements and when children have been keen to explore.

Supervision is the key. Therefore, make sure you actively supervise young children near water, perhaps taking it in turns with other adults.

If you want to swim in the sea, ask if lifeguards are on beach duty, and identify the areas with dangerous currents. Ensure you know what the flags mean, both in the UK and abroad – they don’t all mean the same thing. Take a look at our beach flags webpage – – for more details.

Moreover, be wary when holidaying during the off-season. There are less likely to be lifeguards on duty and bathing conditions may be quite different.

Finally, please also remember to have a heap of fun. Holidays are great opportunities for children to get out and experience the world around them. Bon voyage!

Michael Corley

RoSPA’s Campaigns Manager

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