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."

Be Water Aware Week 2024

Be Water Aware to reduce accidental drownings

In 2022, 266 lives were lost to accidental drowning in the UK. These deaths are preventable tragedies, and the Cumbria Water Safety Partnership is joining the call for people to stay safe in and around water.

The National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC’s) Be Water Aware campaign runs from April 22 to 28. 

Its aim is to raise awareness about the risk of accidental drowning and to provide safety advice ahead of the warmer months. 

Statistics reveal 40% of people who accidentally drowned had no intention of entering the water. Slips, trips and falls were often the cause of these accidents. 

Many people also underestimate the dangers of jumping into water or taking a dip to cool off, especially those with limited experience of outdoor swimming. Unseen hazards and cold water shock can mean even strong swimmers get into trouble. 

Males account for 87% of these accidental fatalities, 60% of which are in inland waters such as rivers, reservoirs and lakes. 

Simple tips to help stay safe include:

  • Stick to proper pathways and stay clear of the water’s edge
  • Don’t enter the water after drinking alcohol 
  • Walk a safe route home after drinking, with friends and away from water
  • Cold water shock can kill, walking into the water rather than jumping in can help reduce the risk.

As the statistics show, may people don’t expect their time near water to turn into an emergency, so knowing what to do if you or someone else is in trouble in the water is lifesaving advice.

If someone is in trouble in the water, the best way to help is by staying calm, staying on land, and remember Call, Tell, Throw:

  • Call 999 for the emergency services
  • Tell the struggling person to float on their back
  • Throw them something that floats.

If you find yourself in trouble in the water, remember to ‘Float to Live’. Tilt your head back with your ears submerged. Relax and breathe normally. Move your hands to help stay afloat. Spread your arms and legs out. Once your breathing is controlled, call for help or swim to safety.

Dawn Whittaker, Drowning Prevention Lead for NFCC, said: “Be Water Aware is about helping people spend time in and around water safely. 

“We encourage people to reduce their risk of drowning by making safe choices around water and to know what to do if an emergency should happen.

“Simple advice to ‘call, tell, throw’ and ‘Float to Live’ are lifesaving messages which fire services share to help reduce these preventable deaths and the devastating impact they have on families and communities.”

For more information about the ‘Be Water Aware’ campaign, click here and look out for #BeWaterAware on social media.

Unintentionally entering the water

Do you love to spend time around water? 

Please stay safe; 40% of people who accidentally drowned in 2022 had no intention of entering the water. Would you know what to do if you or a loved one fell in?

Be careful not to lose your footing on your waterside stroll or run. Riverbanks and coastal paths can be unstable. Stick to proper pathways and keep clear of the edge.

For water safety tips for runners and walkers, click here.

Water and alcohol do not mix

Stay together and away from water when drinking. 26% of people who accidentally drowned in 2022 had alcohol and/or drugs in their system. Don’t let man down become man drowned.

If you’ve been out with your mates, plan your route home away from water.

Swimming safety

Many people swim safely in open water because they take the necessary precautions and are fully aware of the risks and how to reduce them. 

However some people are ill-prepared for a swim or unaware of the risks, such as inexperienced outdoor swimmers going for a dip to cool down on a hot day.

The water may look inviting but, even on a warm day, the water can be cold. It doesn’t matter if you’re a strong swimmer. Jumping into the water to cool off can lead to cold water shock, which can result in drowning.

For more information on cold water shock, click here.

If you start to struggle in the water 

Tilt your head back with ears submerged 

Relax, breathe normally 

  • Move your hands to help you float 
  • Spread your arms and legs out 
  • Once your breathing is controlled, call for help or swim to safety

Never enter the water to rescue your dog: Robbie's story

Never enter the water to rescue your dog - who will rescue you? Most dogs manage to scramble out - some owners are not so lucky. 

Gareth Jones drowned due to going into the water after his dog. He left behind a wife and three children. 

His son Robbie tells the devastating impact of such a loss. It's a reminder that underestimating the power of the sea can be fatal and can happen to anyone. To read Robbie's story, click here.

If someone else falls into the water - call, tell, throw

If you see someone in trouble in the water, remember this lifesaving advice: 

  • Call 999 
  • Tell them to float on their back 
  • Throw something to help them float 

Throwline boards

Along waterways, you may see throwline boards. Take a moment to read them. The more people that know how to use throwlines and what to do in an emergency, the more chance of lives being saved. View a useful video here.

Thando's story

Thando Ndlovu had just turned 15 when he died after getting into difficulty in the River Trent in July 2021. Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service worked with his parents to share his story and raise awareness of the risks of jumping into and swimming in open water.

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.