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Water Safety Advice

As the weather gets warmer, more people are tempted to cool off with a swim in a local river, canal, reservoir or lake.  However, all too often, even the strongest swimmers quickly get into trouble, sometimes with devastating consequences.

What are the dangers of swimming in canals, reservoirs, rivers and lakes?

  • The water is often a lot colder than you expect and it can impact on your physical capabilities.  Just because you can swim well in a warm watered pool doesn't mean you'll be able to swim well in cold water.
  • It can be deep and it is difficult to estimate the depth before you get in.
  • You may jump in but can you get out?  Often people can't find a suitable place to get out of the water due to steep slimy banks or sides.
  • There is no way of knowing what lies beneath the surface of the water.  There could be shopping trolleys, opened tin cans or broken bottles.
  • If it is polluted, it could make you ill.
  • There may be hidden currents.
  • There is no supervision by lifeguards to help you if get into trouble.
  • Never drink alcohol during or just before swimming or while carrying out activities such as boating or water skiing.

Want to know the chilling facts about swimming in reservoirs? - You'll find them right here

What about swimming at the beach?

When you are swimming at a beach, beware of which flag is flying as this will warn you of any dangers. Here is what to look for:

  • Red and yellow flags - lifeguards on patrol.
  • Red flags - it's dangerous to bathe or swim so don't go into the water.
  • Quartered black and white flags - the area has been zoned for surf crafts and Malibu boards.  It is not safe for swimmers and bathers.
  • Children should always go to the beach with an adult.  An adult can point out dangers or help if somebody gets into trouble.

What should I do if I see someone in difficulty?

If you see someone in difficulty in the water, use your mobile or go to the nearest telephone and dial 999.  Ask for the Fire and Rescue Service at inland water sites and the Coastguard at the beach.  Look for any landmarks that you could describe to the operator, and explain as clearly as possible where you are.  If there is something you could reach out to the person with, such as a branch, lie on the bank and keep yourself safe whilst you try to reach them.  NEVER lean out over the water or enter the water to try and help - you are likely to get into difficulty yourself.

Enjoy water safely

Almost half of the people who drown in UK waterways didn’t intend to enter the water at all.  A quarter of people who drown have been found to have alcohol in their system.  In Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service (GMFRS) is often called out to help people who have found themselves in trouble in open water after drinking alcohol, and have decided to make their way home along canals or river paths.  Tragically it is often too late to save the person, and lives are needlessly lost every year.  This spring, GMFRS have teamed up with the Royal Life Saving Society to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking alcohol around open water, and have produced a leaflet and poster which can be downloaded here:

Leaflet: Don’t Drink and Drown

Poster: Alcohol and Water Safety  

Use your local swimming pool and find out if there are organised, supervised water sports activities in your area.

For further information visit:

Download our Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service Water Safety Leaflet and Poster

Dylan's Story

In July 2011, 13 year old Dylan Ramsay went swimming with his friends in a local quarry. See Dylan's Story here >>>