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Royal Life Saving Society shares what families should know about swimming in open water as heatwave continues



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The weather is hot and sticky and everyone is desperate to cool off.

But as the heatwave continues and people flock towards the sea, lakes and rivers The Royal Life Saving Society is warning families that even when the water appears safe and inviting there remain hidden dangers.

In July 2021 there were 49 accidental drowning fatalities in the space of just two weeks in the UK while recent research conducted by the charity, suggests more than half of parents aren't sure their child would know what to do if they fell into open water.

Thousands are expected to flock to the water this weekend as the hot spell continues
Thousands are expected to flock to the water this weekend as the hot spell continues

Director Lee Heard explained: "We understand this hot weather brings excitement and sees people heading to the water for fun or to cool off.

"But it’s vital to ensure that everyone has an understanding of water safety and makes it their responsibility to educate family and friends on how water can be enjoyed safely to prevent any tragedies."

With England's heatwave expected to peak today or tomorrow, here's what the RLSS says families should know before taking a dip:

1. Cold water can kill

All waters in and around the UK, says the charity, are cold enough to cause cold water shock, even in summer and that shock can then make swimming very difficult so it's an important issue to be aware of.

Lee Heard explained: "They may feel they are strong swimmers in a warm swimming pool, but swimming in open water is a different story entirely, and cold water shock becomes a real factor."

Take the advice of coastguards or messages displayed before entering the water. Image: iStock.
Take the advice of coastguards or messages displayed before entering the water. Image: iStock.

2. Assess your surroundings

While around water everyone needs to take time to access their surroundings, look for potential dangers and research local advice about what is safe and permitted.

The charity also advises parents to tell children to look for possible dangers before getting into the water, including being aware of the depth which may be different or suddenly change in different parts.

3. Remember unseen dangers

There can be many nasty and potentially dangerous surprises lurking under water, including sharp objects or weeds which legs or equipment like paddleboards or floats can get tangled in. Underwater objects and hazards may not always be visible but it is always worth remembering they could be there.

Even the strongest swimmers in a pool can struggle in open water says the RLSS. Image: Stock image.
Even the strongest swimmers in a pool can struggle in open water says the RLSS. Image: Stock image.

4. Learn about currents

Strong currents in seas and rivers are not always obvious from the surface but they can often challenge the strongest and most confident of swimmers.

There may be signs warning posted about currents that you should always pay attention to - or if you're somewhere new speak to local people or the lifeguard. And if you find yourself caught in a riptide, says the RLSS, don't swim against it because it's tiring. "Swim with the current and call for help" insists Lee Heard.

Is there equipment should you need it? Image: iStock.
Is there equipment should you need it? Image: iStock.

5. Look out for lifeguards and safety equipment

If there are lifeguards at an open water site, or even safety equipment like lifebelts, clearly the water is a lot safer. If there's a lack of safety equipment, or people, to ensure your safety this will make any rescue difficult and perhaps a stretch of water that should therefore be avoided.

People need to take care when entering open areas of water says the RLSS. Image; iStock.
People need to take care when entering open areas of water says the RLSS. Image; iStock.

6. Float to live

Parents should make sure their children know that floating can save them, with the mantra 'float to live' something worth emphasising. If you fall in or become tired, floating on your back while you catch your breath or shout for help could help save your life. Equally if you see someone in the water - throw something that floats to them and try and resist the temptation to go in as well.

Never enter the water alone says the RLSS. Image: Stock photo.
Never enter the water alone says the RLSS. Image: Stock photo.

7. Stick with others

Always enter the water with friends or family, never go it alone.

8. Stay near the shore

It is advisable that children and young people never swim too far away from the shore and always swim parallel to it. That way, you're never too far from land when you're ready to get out or you suddenly realise that you're tiring.

Does your family know what to do in an emergency? Image: Stock photo.
Does your family know what to do in an emergency? Image: Stock photo.

9. Know what to do in an emergency

It’s absolutely vital, says the RLSS, that parents make sure their children know what to do if something does go wrong.

In an emergency call 999 and ask for the Fire and Rescue service if you are inland or for the Coastguard if at the coast.



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