Safety outdoors

Water safety

Every year, in the UK, around 400 people die from drowning as a result of an accident in or around water.  

Read our advice for staying safe near open or flood water.

Half of accidental drownings in the UK occur when people didn't intend to go in the water, so simple steps to raise awareness of the risks around water and how they can be reduced will help prevent these deaths. 

Firefighters in SRT kit

The 3 main types of water related accidents Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service are:

  1. Rescue of people who didn't intend to go in the water
  2. Rescue of people who were in the water intentionally and get into difficulty
  3. Rescue of people who intentionally enter the water with the intent to harm themselves

Remember: if you spot anyone in trouble in the water, call 999 right away.

"Our county has lots of beauty spots near the water and they are especially nice to enjoy when the sun is shining. We don't want to spoil people's fun by telling them not to jump into rivers and lakes, but we do feel it is important to educate the whole community about the risk open water poses if you are not a trained professional with the correct equipment.

Prevention is always better than cure. We want people to enjoy the water safely and we are fully committed to preventing drowning incidents from happening in the first place. In order to do this, more education is needed, not just in schools but also through engaging with the public in awareness campaigns, so that people fully understand the risks and are better prepared."

Stay safe near water

  • If you are spending time near water, make sure you know what to do if you happened to fall in. The advice is not to panic, float on your back and then either call for help or swim to safety
  • If you've consumed alcohol, do not enter the water, and avoid walking routes near water
  • Never enter the water to try and help a person or animal - always call 999 and use any water rescue equipment if it is available
  • If you are spending time near water whether at home or abroad, make sure you are familiar with local safety information and that children are always fully and actively supervised. 

Float to Live

While the sun is shining, it might be tempting to cool down with a dip in local rivers or lakes. But think twice before you do.

There can be hidden dangers beneath the surface that could have deadly consequences. Deep water may feel warm on the surface, but just below it can be icy cold. This can cause panic and cold water shock. When the water is so cold it can take your breath away and make swimming much harder.

If you find yourself in difficulty in cold water, follow these steps:

  1. Try not to panic
  2. Float on your back
  3. Don't struggle. Your clothes will have air in them that will help you float easier
  4. After 60 to 90 seconds, the cold water shock will pass and you will be able to breath more easily, so you can swim to safety

Hidden dangers under water

Before you jump in a river, lake or any waters stop and think. Hazards lie beneath the water which you may not see before you jump in at force. 

There is usually rubbish and other debris in our waters which could cause you injuries if you were to jump on top of it.

What to do in an emergency

If you see someone in difficulty in the water, here's how you can help:

  • Do not go into the water yourself
  • Stay calm, call for help and ring 999
  • Give your location or describe local landmarks
  • Try to reach out to them with a stick or belt, keeping low to the ground so you don't get pulled in
  • Find the nearest life ring and throw it to the person. If a life ring is not available, throw anything that could help them float
  • If someone goes under the water, mark on the water's edge the place they were last seen with something like a piece of clothing
  • Send someone to the nearest road entrance to flag down the emergency services when they arrive to direct them to the incident quicker

Water activities

Paddle boarding is becoming increasingly popular, follow our tips on how to stay safe:

  • If you can, always go with a friend. It's more fun, and they can help you if you get into difficulty.
  • Bringing your phone to take some photos? Make sure you keep it in a waterproof pouch. That way it won't get wet, and you can use it to call for help in an emergency too.
  • Avoid offshore winds. They will quickly blow your paddle board far out to lake, which can make it extremely tiring and difficult to paddle back to shore.
  • If you are going out alone, always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • You should wear a suitable personal flotation device. This can be a buoyancy aid or a life jacket. Choose one that still allows you plenty of movement so you can paddle freely. Not only will it keep you afloat, but it will also help give you time to recover should you fall in - and chances are you will!
  • Wear suitable clothing for the time of year. In the winter, you will want to use a wet or dry suit. In the summer, you might be able to get away with a swim suit. But if you are going to be in the water for a long time, you might want to upgrade to something that keeps you warm. 
  • You should always use a paddle board with a appropriate leash. There's nothing more frustrating than having to swim after your paddle board if you fall off. The leash will also help you stay connected to your board if you get into trouble and help you float. 
  • Get the appropriate level of training. You might be tempted to just buy a board and head out. Having a few training sessions can teach you the right technique.

Further advice from the RNLI on paddle boarding.


Download the free mobile app what3words, so that emergency services can pinpoint your exact location if you or someone else is ever in difficulty.

Multi-lingual water safety rescources

Language shouldn't be a barrier to getting our safety messages out to the diverse communities who are living in and visiting Cumbria. The RNLI have produced translated safety resources to reach as many people as we can in their mission to save lives at sea.