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Cold water shock can kill - stay out of open water

23 June 2020

As the country basks in another mini heatwave and swimming pools remain closed, many people may be tempted to cool off in open water. 

Cold water shock can kill - stay out of open water

This could have fatal consequences as there are those who will put themselves in danger by cooling off in rivers, lakes, reservoirs or marinas.

Across our region, those who need to cool off or simply exercise are entering dangerous waterways with no knowledge of what lurks below the surface. Furthermore, the ice cold nature of the water in relation to the air temperatures can lead to cold water shock - a potential killer.

Now that government guidelines allow trips to the beach, those that choose to visit the coast should be mindful of not stretching the resources of our Coastguard colleagues or risk injury which will further burden our health service. Some beaches still do not have lifeguard cover, so please follow local signage which will indicate safer swimming areas (between flags) and whether trained lifesavers are on duty.

Beach safety guidelines 

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service’s Public Safety Group Manager Steve Duffield was quick to highlight local issues:

“With the weather getting warmer we are keen to highlight water safety awareness to children, their parents and as wide a cross-section of the local community as possible. With a long coastline, a dangerous tidal river and docks and marinas in places such as Grimsby, Bridlington and Hull, the Humberside Service area has many high risk areas.

"We would like to highlight the dangers of open water and encourage people, whatever their age, to take extra care. People do not understand that even the strongest swimmers can find themselves in difficulty as the cold water causes muscles to cramp. There is then a strong possibility that they cannot swim due to muscular cramps which can then lead to drowning.”

Find our water safety advice here

Open water swimming should only be done by the strongest swimmers who adhere to a few basic principles.

See our Open Water Swimming advice here.

By following these ten simple tips, we can reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities in our region:

1. If someone falls into deep water, call 999. If you are near the coast ask for the coastguard, if you are inland ask for the fire service and ambulance.

2. Never enter the water to try and save someone. This usually ends up adding to the problem. If you go into the water you are likely to suffer from cold water shock, which will leave you unable to help.

3. In an emergency, look around for any lifesaving equipment. Depending on where you are, there might be lifebelts or throw bags – use them. If there is no lifesaving equipment, look at what else you can use. There may be something that can help them stay afloat – even an item such as a ball can help.

4. You could attempt to reach out to someone struggling in water. Clothes such as scarves, or long sticks could be used. If you do this, lie on the ground so your entire body is safely on the edge and reach out with your arm. Don’t stand up or lean over the water.

5. If you manage to get the person out of the water, they will always need medical attention. Even if they seem fine, drowning can occur at a later stage if water has already entered the lungs.

6. When fishing, check that the spot you have chosen is safe. Remember that riverbanks can erode.

7. Avoid throwing sticks or balls near water for dogs – they will go after something if they think you want it back, even if you’ve thrown it too far or into dangerous water.

8. Never enter the water to try and save a dog – the dog usually manages to scramble out.

9. Remember that alcohol reduces inhibitions and can mean you take more risks. If you fall into water after drinking, your chances of being able to get out of the water are decreased due to alcohol’s impairment of simple movements.

10. If fishing, make sure you let someone know where you are going. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile and a good signal.

Find out more by visiting the NFCC website

Other useful information can also be found at The National Water Safety Forum