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Water safety this summer – a guide for children and parents

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a group of young people about the fun but dangers of water and especially with the summer holidays. It is great to have fun but they need to be aware of the problems as well. I did say to all the 'students' make sure you know first aid and how to use a defibrillator in case someone does get in trouble it could save a life. Emma Hammett has written a great piece and does provide courses for first aid.

Having fun in the sun during the summer holidays often includes water, be it in a paddling pool, Lido, villa pool, lake, river or the sea. However, whilst it is refreshing to take a dip, staying safe is vital. Sadly, drowning can happen quickly and quietly.

In fact, around 255 people lost their lives from drowning last year – the majority of which were young men drowning in rivers, lakes and the sea.

Furthermore, an average 40-50 children drown every year in the UK and more when away on holiday.

Read our safety tips so that wherever you go this summer, be it beach or pool, you have all the fun of water play without the fear of fatalities.

Children and water

Supervision is key

Children should always be supervised in the water. Although it’s tempting to think that they will be safe if they’re wearing a rubber ring or armbands – you should never rely on a buoyancy aid or inflatable. In fact, inflatables can sometimes be more dangerous as if they tip, children can struggle to right themselves. Always ensure you are in the water, within reaching distance. However, it’s not just in swimming pools, lakes and rivers that children require supervision. You should never leave them on their own in baths or paddling pools and always supervise with any water play.

Be Aware

Whatever your age, staying vigilant around water is crucial as drowning can happen quickly and surprisingly quietly and causes a frightening number of fatalities every year.

Pools and paddling pools

Most swimming pools have various depths and it can be easy to misjudge where the shallow end stops and the deep end suddenly starts, especially in private pools that don’t have clear markings. Ensure you know the pool depths before your children jump in for the first time (in case it’s too deep or too shallow). Drowning can happen extremely quickly and usually silently, without any obvious signs of a struggle. Furthermore, a child can drown in just 2 cm of water, which is barely deeper than some puddles and considerably shallower than the average paddling pool.

Lifesaving lessons

So – to make your most of your time in the water, start teaching your children to recognise and observe water safety signs such as no diving, no swimming or deep water as early as possible. Also, teach them to always follow the guidance provided by lifeguards and indicated by flags to show where it is safe at the beach. These basic lessons can be real life savers.

When on holiday:

  • Check the safety arrangements at the property in advance and choose pools that are fenced with locking gates.

  • Check the property when you arrive to ensure there are no ponds and that the pool really is secure for your child.

  • Always supervise children when they are playing in or near water and be sober.

  • Teach children to swim from an early age

  • Speak to your children about staying safe in ponds, lakes, rivers and seas and always deter them from diving into any unknown depths.

Water safety guidelines for adults, teenagers and older children

Adventure Water Sports

Adventurous water sports such as kayaking, white-water rafting or surfing are increasingly popular during the summer break. Riskier activities such as diving into the sea from cliffs or tombstoning often happen in the holidays and frequently with teenagers on that post-exam holiday.


Tombstoning is when someone plunges into deep water from a bridge, cliff or quay, is a high-risk activity. It has resulted in fatalities or injuries, such a spinal and limb injuries. Diving off cliffs is extremely popular and sadly results in a large number of people experiencing life-changing injuries from spinal injury.

Encouraging your children to undertake a first aid course can make them far more risk aware and more sensible and cautious when approaching these dangerous activities.

Click here to learn more about first aid for a suspected spinal injury.

These injuries happen because people misjudge the depth of the water they are jumping into and it is shallower than it looks. Or they are unable to see submerged objects such as rocks.

Cliff Diving

Alcohol and drugs alter perception, reduce inhibitions and increase risk taking. I was horrified on holiday last year at the number of teenagers, obviously intoxicated, who were encouraged by crowds to dive off high cliff tops into dark waters beneath. They had no way at all of gauging possible dangers beneath.


Difficulties can also occur as people underestimate the strength of the current or their ability to get out of the water because of steep rocks or a slimy riverbank.

Cold Water Shock

Whilst hot summer sun can make a cooling dip tempting, the sudden change in temperatures from hot to cold can make it difficult to swim. Cold water shock triggers the fight and fright response when someone enters cold water. Cold water shock causes panic and this often precipitates drowning.

Read our article here about cold water shock and how to survive it.

Open Water

Every year people die in lakes, rivers and reservoirs as swimming in open waters is extremely dangerous without proper training, kit and supervision. Open water is cold, it can be difficult to find an easy place to get out of the water and there are hidden dangers such as weeds and debris beneath the surface that you can easily get caught up in and can pull you under. Sadly, one of my daughters friends died this way.

Party Time

Summer is also a traditional time for teenagers to celebrate the end of their exams, to go on holiday or party with friends. Teenagers are risk takers and in a group, are prone to egg each other on. Both my children and their friends regularly attend our first aid courses, to ensure they are equipped with the skills to recognise if there is something seriously wrong and be able to help themselves or their friends should they have a medical emergency. Speak with your children about the risks of alcohol and taking other substances – particularly when swimming.

General Dangers of Water

The general dangers of water –according to the RoSPA website ­– which is crucial to bear in mind, are as follows:

  • it is very cold

  • there may be hidden currents

  • it can be difficult to get out (steep slimy banks)

  • it can be deep

  • there may be hidden rubbish, e.g. shopping trolleys, broken glass

  • there are no lifeguards

  • it is difficult to estimate depth

  • it may be polluted and may make you ill

How you can help if you think someone is drowning

  • Dial 999.

  • You should do everything possible to avoid getting into a dangerous situation in the first place.

  • Think of your own safety first and never put yourself in danger.

  • Throw a buoyancy aid to them, and only go in if you have been trained how to help someone. A drowning and panicking casualty can quickly pull you under.

  • If the rescue is too dangerous, wait until the emergency services arrive.

Read our article about first aid for someone who is drowning here:

First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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