Posts tagged ‘drowning’

12 August, 2013

Top five tips to stay safe while swimming in open water this summer

It’s been one of the hottest summers for many years and more scorching temperatures are on their way this week. But with the heat, we often see young people, particularly men, tempted to cool off or jump into open water.

Supervised sites, like a lifeguarded beach, are the safest places to swim.

Supervised sites are the safest places to swim.

During the July heatwave, which lasted for around three weeks, we are aware of at least 21 deaths for people who were swimming or playing around water – about the same number as we normally see for a complete summer month.

Water can look incredibly tempting especially on a hot day and I understand fully why people want to get in and cool off.

Although I don’t want to be the grumpy old man of summer, there are some things that need a bit of thought before you get into the water.

Here’s my top five:

1. Go to swim at a lifeguarded beach, lido, swimming pool or bathing spot. This is the single most positive thing you can do for your safety. Last year, there were no deaths in lifeguarded swimming pools and, as far as I can tell, there were also no preventable deaths at lifeguarded spots such as beaches and lidos.

In addition, you will be swimming in clean water and there will be an ice cream van too.

2. Take it slowly – think before you enter the water. A common scenario is when a young male, typically aged between 15 and 30, jumps or rushes into cooler water (15˚C or less). Remember there can be a big difference between surface water temperature, which can be in the 20˚Cs at this time of year, and the layers below, which can be much cooler at or below that critical 15˚C. The cooler temperatures can lead to a swimmer going into cold shock.

Cold shock is the term we use for the impact of cold water on the body. In short, after a quick entry into water your heart rate jumps up, you start to hyperventilate and lose the ability to control your breathing, whilst at the same time your muscles cool down and you start to lose the ability to swim.

Jumping in into cooler water can lead to cold shock and swim failure.

Jumping in into cooler water can lead to cold shock and swim failure.

If this happens in a cold bath, you can jump out, but in open water, it’s not so easy, and ultimately – in the worst case – you inhale water and the drowning process begins.

There are a few ways to limit this:

(i) Get in slowly, get used to the water conditions and check out the swim spot

(ii) Wear a wetsuit, and/or a buoyancy aid

(iii) Swim outside all year round more or less, and become a habituated open water swimmer – training your body to get used to cold water temperatures.

Realistically, if you are not going to wear a wetsuit or train to be an open water swimmer, the best thing you can do is get in slowly and get used to the conditions.

3. If you want to drink alcohol, have your beer after you swim, not before. It affects your judgement, can make you more susceptible to cold and in my opinion it tastes much better in that order!

4. When you’re not at a supervised site, be sociable and go with other people. If someone else is there, they can raise the alarm and help you out, or vice versa. It could be a lifesaver.


Warning signs are there for a reason.

5. On a final note, if you see a site with signs that say “don’t swim/deep water/beware”, it’s your decision if you choose to ignore them, but be aware that this might be backed up by local laws. Ultimately, the reason for the sign is because the manager or someone who knows the area really well is of the opinion that they can’t make the place safe enough for you to use.

As a minimum, think really carefully before you go in, particularly if the signs point out hidden currents and structures, such as weirs, deep and cold water.

Hopefully, that is some help, so enjoy the hot weather while it lasts!

David Walker, leisure safety manager at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

For more water safety information visit

29 May, 2013

We are all to blame for latest damning child swimming statistics

Latest figures revealing that more than half of primary school children in England cannot swim have astounded me.

Child with waterwingsThese new statistics are highlighted in the report, Learning the Lesson – the future of school swimming, which has been compiled by swimming’s governing body, the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) and Kellogg’s. The report reveals that more than 1.1million primary schoolchildren in England – 51 per cent of children aged seven to eleven – cannot swim the 25metre length of a typical swimming pool unaided.

I am not the only one shocked, and a chorus of disapproval has emerged from celebrities and sports stars including Olympic swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Andrew Willis, plus former athlete Sally Gunnell.

Even his Royal Highness, The Duke of Cambridge –  the patron of the English Schools Swimming Association – has recorded a short video calling for school swimming to be accessible for all children at all primary schools.

You can watch Prince William’s video here:

These worrying findings are a reflection on us all. They depict a failure to equip our children with a basic life-skill that could end up meaning the difference between them drowning or swimming to safety.

I refer to “all” of us because learning to swim is a shared responsibility which encompasses not just the government, but schools, parents and the community as a whole.


Ensuring that children are taught to swim in schools is one important factor, but there are many others: having swimming pools which communities can access easily with good public transport links; creating a wealth of safe spaces to swim from Blue Flag” beaches to open water sites; parents treating swimming as a priority; and towns and cities having appropriate sized pools. For example, there is currently no 50metre pool in Birmingham – Britain’s second largest city – and it really should have a swimming pool that size.

Other findings emerging from the report included that, on average, each child only received 8 hours 15 minutes of school swimming tuition a year, compared to the 22 hours recommended by the Government.

Nearly 45 per cent of schools stated that the biggest barrier to delivering better quality school swimming was budget constraints.

This September, each primary school will receive a minimum of £9,000 additional ring-fenced funding as part of the Government’s £150 million injection into PE and school sport.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we are firmly behind the ASA’s call for curriculum swimming and water safety to be a priority for this funding. The reason RoSPA believes learning to swim is so important at school is because having the swimming and water safety skills to save yourself or others doesn’t come instinctively, it has to be taught.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for children and young people in the UK and, sadly, we come across many grieving families who believed their children could swim, only to find out their abilities were little more than being able to float and doggy paddle.

having the swimming and water safety skills to save yourself or others doesn’t come instinctively, it has to be taught

David Walker, RoSPA's leisure safety manager.

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager.

Latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) show that in 2011, 407 people drowned accidentally across the UK, of which 47 included children and young people up to the age of 19.

Nearly half of the children and young people who died (22) were aged 15 to 19, and drownings in this age group were predominantly in a river or lake, according to the data from the NWSF’s Water Incident Database (WAID).

It is important to remember that most of these drownings are avoidable and making sure children learn to swim in primary school is a critical step towards reducing these numbers.

Increasing the number of children that can swim is going to be a huge challenge, and it is not one that schools can do alone – they need everyone’s help to achieve this.

RoSPA has detailed advice for families on water safety, which is worth every parent, grandparent or carer taking a look at, especially before they go away on holiday.

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager.

22 November, 2012

Keep the Christmas cheer alive this year – ensure your home is free of fire hazards

I was delighted to have been invited to attend the official press launch of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services’ marketing campaign recently.

Don't Give Fire a Home Chief Fire Officers' Association of Scotland RoSPA

At the press launch, from left to right, Jacqui Doig (Scottish Community Safety Network), Alex Clark, the new deputy chief of the new (single) Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Elizabeth Lumsden (RoSPA Scotland), Roseanna Cunningham (Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs) and Colin Keir, MSP (Member for Edinburgh Western).

The “Don’t Give Fire a Home” campaign supports the Chief Fire Officers Association of Scotland’s 2012-13 marketing and publicity strategy. The backdrop to the event was a map illustrating the number of fires within domestic dwellings in Scotland. The launch also promoted the roadshow events currently being held around the country, which generate referrals to the Fire and Rescue Service’s free home fire safety visits. Further information on the fire data by local authority area is available at

The launch was covered by STV and there was also interest from various radio stations as well as the printed press. The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham, attended the event and urged householders not to be complacent as the festive period approaches – a time that traditionally presents a variety of new fire hazards in the home. Ms Cunningham also mentioned the need to have a working smoke detector and urged people to take up the offer of a free home fire safety visit – available from all of the local fire and rescue services.

There were 6,149 dwelling fires in Scotland in 2011-12 and sadly dozens of people die each year.  But what types of fires are happening?  Well, most of the deaths were due to careless use of smoker’s materials and many of the non-fatal casualties happened because of chip pan fires. When we, at RoSPA, speak to people about chip pan fires, the majority will say, “I don’t know anyone who still has a chip pan”. But people do still have them – and leave them unattended for different reasons. One reason is that they have consumed alcohol and fallen asleep in another room while they wait for the pan to heat up. Much safer to collect a bag of chips from the local chippy on the way home!

RoSPA's home safety advice includes the safe use of candles

RoSPA recommends that lighted candles are never left unattended and that they are never positioned in a draught, anywhere near curtains or near any materials, which could ignite.

At RoSPA, we will do what we can to support the Fire and Rescue Services’ campaign again this year. Our advice includes the safe use of candles (a popular Christmas gift) and the dangers of overloading sockets. However, we also draw attention to the fact that being injured in a fire, although causing one of the most serious types of injury – a painful, often life threatening burn – is just one of the many types of accidents that can happen in the home. Falls remain the biggest cause of home accidents – involving all age groups – but we also see incidences of poisoning, choking and drowning. You can see all of our Christmas safety tips at

So, keep safe over the festivities this year. Many of you will be spending extra time in the home while you are away from work. Plan in advance to ensure that you can enjoy a great time without ending up at A&E – or worse…

Elizabeth Lumsden, community safety manager for RoSPA Scotland

26 August, 2011

Gone wild swimmin’

One of the many pleasures of moving to Cumbria last year was the opportunity to go completely wild a bit more often. I’ve been enjoying weekends and holidays up there for more than thirty years, so I’d already sussed out some great swimming spots (which will remain top secret!).

There’s nothing better after a day on the fells than to rejuvenate tired limbs in cold water, and with a sailing boat and a canoe in the inventory, to complement shanks’s pony and the (t)rusty bike, it’s easy to get into some remote spots where others might fear to tread water.

Our CEO takes a dip

With RoSPA having taken more than a bit of flak from open water swimmers in the past, it is now time to disclose that the CEO and quite a few others of us RoSPA folk often go wet and wild. To be even more honest, I have swum in some uncommon places, including all of the Great Lakes (some kind of bet), Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (seriously, painfully cold) and the Ganges at Varanasi (spiritually uplifting but bacterially soupy). Also, if you take to cold water with all the happy, panting enthusiasm of a Newfoundland dog, you might as well swim there too, and I have.

Of course at RoSPA, we know only too well that people should never swim where it is prohibited (e.g. some parks, rivers, reservoirs and gravel pits), should never be impaired by alcohol and should not swim directly after a meal.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the joys of wild swimming, containing advice, information and recommending places to get wet.

And despite the image of bohemian freedom conjured up by wild swimming, there are quite a few pointers that I have learnt along the way, to suit my own appetite for “wild”. In Cumbria, my greatest fear is being swept away, so in a river if the current looks too fast, it is too fast and I look for somewhere more benign.

I also do a quick recce around the spot in case anything looks dangerous or has changed since the last visit – a boulder likely to tumble, a fallen tree or a jumble of rocks to get your foot trapped in – all need to be scoped out.

Swimming shoes are must-haves (light and easy to pack in a rucksack) to protect the feet and give some kind of grip on slimy rocks, as are trunks (middle-aged man alert!) because the alternative, though DH Lawrence-esque, could easily spook any passing walkers. Mountain Rescue has enough on its plate!

Not everybody was enamoured of the cold...!

Submerged, waterlogged trees are as rigid as iron and very painful if a sharp branch hits a vital part. So I go in slowly and get my breath before swimming and if the water is really cold (I’m a wimpy April-October type), I aim to stay within my depth, swimming parallel to the shore, in case of cramp in those tired, fell-worn limbs.

Most importantly, I have never, ever gone alone, tempting though the solitude is, and whether my wife, one of my sons or a friend is with me, we always have a brief chat about the hazards and what to do in an emergency.

But taking these precautions is only a tiny impediment to the feeling that soon follows once the body settles down and the “hit” of that peaty, cold water washes over the soul, the pleasure heightened by the glorious Lakeland surroundings. It is pure magic, a cleansing, invigorating antidote to all the cares of the world.

When you emerge, reborn and renewed, everything in your life looks that little bit sharper and brighter, there is a tiny, involuntary smile on your lips and, for the rest of the day, you walk, springy with joy, on a soft cushion of fresh mountain air.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s Chief Executive


12 July, 2011

Scramble your way to a coastal adventure

As promised in the last blog on tombstoning, we’d like to introduce coasteering: a popular and developing activity that involves traversing the intertidal zone – or, in everyday language, scrambling around the coastline having fun.

Those taking part in the activity use a combination of scrambling, walking, swimming and jumping to complete the

The idea is NOT to stay dry...

journey – if you set out with the intention of staying dry, you’re not coasteering!

In its early days, coasteering was a niche activity which began in Pembrokeshire, south Wales, where there are miles of wild, rocky coastline to explore. It was run by a small number of well-managed outdoor centres; but since then the activity has spread around the UK. This growth in the sport’s popularity has brought new activity providers onto the scene.

In the summer of 2007, primarily as a result of several incidents and near misses, members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) began to think about the management and development of coasteering – and, in parallel, approaches to managing “tombstoning” incidents.

In response to these incidents, a joint project was launched with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS). Under the direction of the NWSF beach advisory group, an industry working group was established involving some 120 organisations and individuals providing commercial coasteering services to the public. The project aimed to reduce the number of accidents, and implement an industry standard for organisations offering coasteering activities.

How did we address the issue?

  1. Developing an industry group. Bringing the providers, regulators and rescue organisations together has been the key activity over the last few years.

New and emerging sports often have local pockets of knowledge and excellent practice; sharing this and embedding good practice was the objective, along with helping the industry to formalise the knowledge that was sometimes locked away.

One of the early achievements was the development of a workable definition of coasteering:

Coasteering involves traversing along a stretch of intertidal zone, often as part of an organised group activity. Participants travel across rocks and through water, using a variety of techniques including climbing, swimming and jumping into water. Coasteering guides and participants wear appropriate clothing and equipment while undertaking coasteering activities.

  1. Agreeing industry standards and common practice. This was no mean feat. Many of the providers had to sacrifice some of their hard-earned commercial experience and compromise.

The maxim of “not allowing excellence to be the enemy of good” proved true; many providers had first rate standards and operations, which were beyond the capability of smaller companies. The working group addressed this by developing a “safe as necessary” standard that was achievable by everyone in the industry. The group put together two documents outlining the agreed practice and information.

The guidance has proved to be influential and both documents have been adopted by the outdoor industry regulator, the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA).

  1. Developing capacity. One of the issues identified early in the project was the number of organisations involved in developing the sport, who were doing a good job in terms of promoting good practice, but had little resource to scale this nationally.

The original industry group has now progressed from being a NWSF working group into the National Coasteering Charter (NCC), which now includes the majority of providers and training bodies. This group will take forward the sharing and embedding of good practice across the sport.

Adventure is beautiful

Did the project deliver everything we wanted?

No. Not all the training providers are currently involved, nor are some of the other wider industry groups. But, and this is an important “but”, the key providers are involved and they have a common vision of improving the safety and quality of the sector.

However, the wider impact of the project shouldn’t be underestimated.

The process itself and the fact that an industry group overcame its difficulties to work together through what were contentious issues and achieve a good number of excellent outcomes have been noted both in the UK and internationally.

The coasteering project was presented at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam (look out for a blog on this event soon!).

So, what next?

The NCC will take over governance of the key documents with RoSPA, the RNLI, the MCA and other members of the NWSF taking more of a watching brief. The NCC, if it grows as promised, looks to be the best forum for managing the issues associated with coasteering and as such it will have a formal reporting route through the NWSF and, we hope, through other groups.

For more information about coasteering:

Coasteering is great fun, and a unique way of experiencing our country’s beautiful coastline. Get out there and have a go!

David Walker, RoSPA’s information manager and NWSF member

This blog was based on an article in RoSPA’s Staying Alive journal. Take a look at RoSPA’s Flickr account for more coasteering photographs (all owned by John Paul Eatock and Keirron Tastagh).

8 July, 2011

Don’t jump into the unknown!

It’s that time of year again – the weather is (sometimes!) beautifully warm, people are on holidays, and perhaps a touch too much alcohol may have been consumed. Inhibitions are lowered, and somebody decides to jump off a pier or a bridge.

I can see the attraction of tombstoning, being a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

However, there is a really simple message for people to keep in their minds: don’t jump into the unknown!

Look before you leap

Last week’s newspapers wrote about a man in his 20s who jumped 30 feet off Brighton Pier into just three feet of water. Unsurprisingly, he suffered serious head and spinal injuries – hopefully he will make a full recovery, but others have not been so lucky.

Sadly, it’s not difficult to find many stories of deaths and serious injuries caused by tombstoning in recent years.

Tombstoning offers a high-risk, high-impact experience but it can have severe and life-threatening consequences. Some of these reasons may seem obvious, but they’re worth emphasising – as the accident stats show!

Injuries and deaths as a result of tombstoning are a growing problem. Over the five year period 2004-2008 – 139 incidents required a rescue or emergency response and 12 of them ended in a fatality.

We looked at 41 of the most serious cases in more detail, and the stats may surprise you.

  • Most of those involved in the most serious cases were male (85%)
  • Teenagers were involved in just over half the cases (55%), followed by those in their 20s (25% with the remainder of incidents involving people aged over 30 years
  • All of the known alcohol-related incidents involved males aged over 40 (which accounted for three of the fatal incidents)
  • Of the non-fatal incidents, spinal and limb injuries (both at 20%) were most commonly reported.

So, perhaps counter intuitively, it’s not just teenage boys who are the problem. And it’s not the teenagers who are putting their lives in danger after drinking – that is reserved for those who are old enough to know better.

Many of the non-fatal incidents have resulted in life-changing injuries and they required significant resources from the rescue services. As well as the costs to the authorities, these people are now going to require lifelong care from family and friends – it’s not just their own quality of life that has been reduced.

Young and older fathers were among the fatalities, along with at least three teenagers. The coastguard has produced a video clip highlighting the consequences.

So what’s RoSPA’s advice? You may be expecting me to wave my arms and say, “Don’t do it!” But this is the real world. People are going to do what they feel like doing – and most of the time, that’s fine. So all we are saying is that people should arm themselves with information, and know what they’re getting themselves into.

Taking a moment to think through what you’re about to do may save a lifetime of pain and regret – or it may simply save your life.

Don’t jump into the unknown. Consider the dangers before you take the plunge:

  • Check for hazards in the water. Rocks or other objects may be submerged and difficult to see
  • Check the depth of the water. Remember tides can rise and fall very quickly – as a rule of thumb, a jump of ten metres requires a water depth of at least five metres
  • Never jump while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Check for access. Can you get out of the water once you’re in?
  • Consider the risks to yourself and others. Conditions can change rapidly – young people could be watching and may attempt to mimic the activity. And, if you jump when you feel unsafe or pressured, you probably won’t enjoy the experience.

Jumping in is the easy part; getting out of the water is often more difficult than people realise, and don’t forget that strong currents can rapidly sweep people away – even strong swimmers cannot swim against the tide.

The best way to learn about the risks involved and have a good experience is to try coasteering – a mix of scrambling, climbing, traversing and cliff jumping around the coast with a professional guide.

Stay tuned to the blog next week for an article on coasteering!

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s press officer/web editor

3 May, 2011

Jenny Spink: an inspiration

Every now and then, you get to meet someone who really opens your eyes. Someone who makes you realise that, however bad life may look at times, things CAN get better – and those with the will to change their world can do so.

RoSPA takes work experience students from all walks of life, and they all have something special to offer. But Jenny made a real impression when I met her at the recent CSEC/LASER meeting. Despite her nerves (or mild terror, as I’m sure she would correct me) she gave a first-class presentation about her work with Fairbridge and the project she undertook while working with us at RoSPA.

I asked Jenny if she would write me a short article for the blog about her life, how Fairbridge helped her, and what she did while she was working with us. Here is part of her story:

My name is Jenny Marie Spink. I am 24 years old. I was born in Birmingham and I have now moved to West Brom.

I have been through a rough lifestyle with mental health issues and had no confidence or self motivation. I was then put into contact with Fairbridge by my CPN [community psychiatric nurse] in 2009. I wasn’t sure whether this would work for me as it involved mixing with groups my own age.

I was bullied at school and was afraid to face other people in case it happened again. I had developed a stammer aged 18 due to past experiences and I was scared that people would take the piss out of the way I spoke.

During my access course I felt safe because I was in a safe environment and with people with similar issues that I could relate to. I realised we were all in the same boat and made some good friends that I still speak to, to this day, even though they have now moved on from Fairbridge. The whole experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, doing things I’ve never done before like mountain climbing and rock climbing. At the end of my access course I felt that I had achieved something and faced my fear of meeting new people.

Through my time at Fairbridge I have built up confidence and self esteem. I also faced a fear of sailing on open water when I sailed on Spirit for six days. It was an amazing experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have also had opportunities in training to be a youth worker, working with people from all backgrounds.

I was first introduced to an organisation called RoSPA when Fairbridge young people, including me, wanted to put on a talent show event and awards evening. We went to RoSPA to find out about risk assessments and how it takes place on venues.

The Youth Liaison Worker, Cassius, asked me about my interests and I told him that I was interested in sport and leisure. He said that he offers placements in the leisure department and asked if I wanted to do a work placement to gain more experience. I applied for the position mentioning that I had a particular interest in water safety due to an incident that happened when I was younger involving a friend who nearly drowned.

I had a formal interview for the placement and had to wear a suit. I didn’t sleep the night before as I was too nervous. I was interviewed by Cassius and Nathan, who was to be my direct line manager. I had to prepare and give a five-minute presentation on water safety. I was nervous as I had never had to do one before. It went really well and I got full marks for my presentation.

In October 2010, I completed a two week, full-time work placement at RoSPA researching child drowning abroad. I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience being back in a work environment and it made me more aware of how parents and young people are unaware of how many drownings occur. I was the first person in Europe to carry out this research. The research is now being used in schools making children aware of how to stay safe in and around water.

Now I have a different outlook on life and have pushed myself out of the world I was in when I thought life couldn’t go on anymore.

I am now currently a youth worker at Fairbridge and a volunteer at Safeside and I am hoping to become a full time, paid youth worker in the future.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Fairbridge and the opportunities I have had to put my life back on track.

Jenny Spink

22 April, 2011

Dying to cool off in the warm weather?

After months of feeling cold and looking pale, many millions of us Brits will be champing at the bit to get out and about during the first spell of decent weather.

Though the mercury has recently raced its way up the old thermometer, we’d do well to remember that water temperature is still lagging a good way behind. As such, those refreshing-looking rivers and lakes are still going to be pretty b****y cold during the bank holiday season.

So much so that attempts at “cooling off” in the blazing sun might literally take your breath away – and land you in all sorts of difficulties.

And that’s not just me being a scaremongering spoilsport. Look at the stats.

Accidental drownings peak dramatically during spells of warm weather, particularly when clement conditions coincide with weekends or school holidays.

Inland waters, such as rivers, lakes, lochs, canals and reservoirs, are the most common locations for accidental drowning.

In fact, figures from the National Water Safety Forum show that in 2009, 405 people died from accidents or natural causes in water across the UK, and, of these, more than half (213) died as a result of incidents in inland waters.

Having said that, RoSPA’s mantra isn’t “thou shalt not” but rather, “thou might want to heed some advice to make an informed decision”.

You can’t beat being out and about during nice weather. So here’s what we say to anyone who’s listening:

  • Swimming at properly-supervised sites, such as beaches, lidos or swimming pools, is best, although RoSPA appreciates that not everyone can go to these locations
  • If you choose to go to an unsupervised site, think through the hazards first and ensure you know what to do if something goes wrong
  • Among the hazards to consider are that during this warm weather, water will be a lot colder than you are expecting so be careful if you jump in or go for a swim to cool off. Also, there may be strong currents and underwater debris that you cannot see from the bank
  • Consider how you are going to get out of the water once you are in it
  • Be honest about your swimming ability
  • Remember that alcohol and swimming never mix
  • Parents and carers: discuss the hazards with your children and remind them that children should never swim alone at unsupervised locations.

See RoSPA’s Water Safety for Children and Young People factsheet for more top safety tips – including advice about rescuing someone who gets into difficulty.

Michael Corley

RoSPA’s Campaigns Manager

7 April, 2011

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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