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Staying safe around water this summer – a guide for children and their parents

Staying safe around water this summer – a guide for children and their parents

Emma Hammett A qualified nurse, author and first aid trainer with over 30 years’ healthcare and teaching experience 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

Emma Hammett A qualified nurse, author and first aid trainer with over 30 years’ healthcare and teaching experience

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

Children and water

Supervision is key

Children should always be supervised in the water. It’s
tempting to think that they will be safe if they’re wearing a rubber ring or
armbands – but 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

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. 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

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

One of my daughter’s friends drowned in 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

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
  • 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

  • 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.

Emma Hammett

Emma Hammett

Emma Hammett is a qualified nurse, author and first aid trainer with over 30 years’ healthcare and teaching experience.

Emma is the Founder of three multi-award-winning businesses; First Aid for Life, Onlinefirstaid.com, First Aid for Pets and her social cause StaySafe.support. She has published multiple books and is an acknowledged first aid expert and authority on accident prevention, health and first aid. Emma writes for numerous online and print publications and regularly features in the press, on the radio and on TV.

She is the first aid expert for the British Dental Journal, British Journal of School Nursing, the Mail online and Talk Radio with Eamonn Holmes. She is a member of the Guild of Health Writers and Guild of Nurses.


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