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UK Water Safety - Don't become another statistic! 

Sobering figures from the National Water Safety Forum show that sadly 255 people lost their lives in accidental drownings in the UK in 2017 so clearly the water deserves a healthy dose of respect!

As the summer holidays approach we thought we’d take a look at some of the steps that can be taken to improve your safety around the UK coast and waterways:


Cliff jumping

coasteering leap - guernsey travelFlinging yourself from the rocks with a great splash into the cool waters below can be exhilarating but be sure you’re doing it safely! It might be worth hiring or investing in your own floatation vest and a helmet to protect your noggin if you plan to be scrambling the rocks all day.


Water levels rise and fall, just because it was deep enough and clear of hazards last time doesn’t mean it’s the same now, check it out BEFORE you take the plunge. I know it likely means having to hike all the way back to the top in order to jump, but think of how much fitter you’ll be? Perhaps let the professionals do the boring work and go on a guided coasteering tour of the coast> 


Watch your step! Whether you’re moving around to get that perfect photo angle or getting ready to leap, a simple slip could land you in serious trouble! Also beware of crumbling cliff edges and rocks that are ready to fall, another reason to go and check it out from below before hand.


Have a friend on hand – sometimes even an experienced jumper can get it wrong! Hitting the water at the wrong angle can be like hitting concrete and people have broken bones or been knocked unconscious on impact. Best to have someone ready to assist you IN THE WATER than have them running the trail to the bottom which could take several minutes while you’re out cold – plus they can take the cool action video from down there.


Wild swimming

wild swimming safety tipsBeware of strong currants and underwater snags or obstacles, and remember that just because you’ve safely swum somewhere before conditions may have changed.

Water levels can vary day to day meaning what was safe and calm one week might have a much stronger flow and be more hazardous the next time around, or  dropped to expose previously hidden hazards!


Old quarries can make stunning ‘lagoons’ with alluring crystal clear waters but often still have the remnants of old machinery left in them, coils of wire and other industrial hazards. Another potential risk is that fine sediment combined with water, like that in an old clay, chalk, gravel or sand quarry, can form dangerous deep areas of ‘quicksand’. I had a close call as a child messing around in a local clay quarry 'paradise' that scared me enough to not repeat! 


Heed warnings. While it may look calm and inviting on the surface, especially on a hot summers day, some rivers and lagoons regardless claim lives year after year. If there is a sign warning you not to swim, take the advice!


If you are going to swim somewhere it is preferable to go with other people who can summon help in the case of an emergency, and do so where there are life rings available to use.


Recognising & escaping a rip current

Photo from RNLI - darker areas indicate deeper water with risk of rip currents.Photo from RNLI - darker areas indicate deeper water with risk of rip currents.Everyone has likely heard of a rip current and know that they’re bad news to get caught up in, but not everyone knows what causes them or what to actually do if you find yourself at the mercy of one. They can be predicted by those in the know and can sometimes even be recognised before entering the water. Try looking at the water from a high vantage point and you might notice the colour difference and current patterns in the water - darker areas indicate deeper water where there might be rip currents.

Rip currents occur around build ups of sand on the beach due to the ebb and flow of the tide and waves. As a wave comes in, the water is pushed over a sand bar by the energy behind it but will naturally retreat along the path of least resistance – the slightly deeper areas between sand bars. Since moving water easily rearranges sand on the sea bed this can quickly form into channels of fast moving water that can be extremely difficult to swim against, which is often a persons first response when they find themselves being carried away from shore. Some of these currents can lead to other channels with even faster currents of water in them (the ones you hear about carrying people miles from shore in a matter of minutes) so are not to be trifled with!

Even strong swimmers only have so much energy at their disposal. The solution is simpler than you might think, if the water is travelling faster in the channel between sandbars then you need to get back into shallower water so swim sideways, ALONG the beach instead of straight at it, until you’re back over a sandbar. You’ll notice the difference almost immediately as rip currents are actually quite narrow!

Whilst I know from personal experience that it can be a scary scenario to find yourself in, it is important to stay calm, breathe deeply and slowly. Roll onto your back to float if you are tiring, even if you are carried away from shore the current will relax eventually enabling you to head back in further along the beach or to catch someone's attention and get assistance.


Always watch children closely around water and always heed the advice of lifeguards and warning flags where they’re in use – they are there for your safety not to spoil fun!


Also well worth a read is Drowning doesn't look like drowning>


We hope you found this article helpful, let us know what you thought in the comments below. Stay safe and enjoy your summer adventures!


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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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