Tips To Stay Safe In The Water
Swimming in the cool water over the summer and having fun with friends can be great, but there are dangers that you need to be aware of to keep yourself safe if things go wrong.
Never swim alone
If you’re young or not a strong swimmer, you should go with an adult who can keep an eye on you. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble. You need to ensure that someone is always with you in open water. If you get into trouble, you need someone there to help you.
Don’t drink alcohol and go swimming. Alcohol can affect your decision-making and your ability to survive in the water.
Look for dangers
Beware of things in the water, like debris, weeds or plants that could tangle you up. Diving in isn’t a good idea when you don’t know how deep it is or the dangers lurk beneath. Sometimes there will be safety signs or beach flags near the water – take notice!
You might not be able to see pollution in the water, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Pollution can give you a rash and make you ill. Think about how clean it is, especially if it’s a river in a city. If you see green stuff floating on the surface of the water, then keep away. This is called blue-green algae and often appears after warm weather. You shouldn’t touch or swim in it, it can make you ill.
Float to live
One of the most important skills to know before going into the water is how to float to live. This is the advice from lifesaving charity the RNLI if you ever get into trouble in the water.
Thrashing about or trying to swim against currents can cause you to get tired very quickly and put you in danger of drowning. You should calmly lean your head back, stretch your arms and legs into a star shape and try to float. Move your arms and legs around a little if it helps. When your breathing is under control, start shouting for help. Watch the video above to see how it’s done.
One of the biggest dangers in open water is currents. These can be hidden underwater, seen on the surface, or hard to spot, like rip currents. Even a gentle current can knock you off your feet.
Currents can be unpredictable. You can be dragged into deeper water. It is especially dangerous if swimming near waterfalls, weirs (a barrier across the water) or obstacles. The temptation is to try and swim against the current to escape, which can tire you out quickly. Don’t thrash around. Keep your energy and use the float to live advice above.
Your body can react to cold water in a dangerous way. It can cause cramps that can affect your ability to swim. Getting too cold can cause hypothermia (a medical emergency). If you’re shivering and your teeth are chattering, get out and warm up slowly by wrapping up or doing star jumps or press-ups.
Cold water shock can happen if the temperature in your body cools down too quickly, this forces the body to gasp for air, and it can cause your heart rate to rise. This can quickly turn dangerous and cause people to gulp in water and drown. You should let your body get used to the change in temperature slowly by wading in and not diving in.
If you get into difficulties because of cold water, float and start shouting for help (see float to live advice above). Keep calm until it passes or until help comes. If possible, think about wearing a wetsuit. When participating in water activities, like paddle boarding or kayaking, wear a life jacket. It will keep you afloat.
In an emergency
If you see anyone in danger in the water, call 999 immediately and ask for help. Do not try and go into the water yourself to save someone. If you can find something that floats nearby, throw it to the person in trouble and wait for help.
Further information and help
- RNLI Safety – learn how to keep yourself and others safe in the water
- Stay Safe Around Water – advice from the South Wales Fire Service
- Get Soaked! – your guide to having fun and staying safe
- Cold Water Shock – information from the RNLI
- Summer Water Safety – Royal Life Saving Society UK
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