236 accidental water-related fatalities in the UK in 2023

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Public urged to respect the water as summer arrives

As reported by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), June and October saw the highest number of accidental water-related fatalities in the UK in 2023, with 28 lives lost in each month.

This unusual pattern is concerning experts, as drownings typically peak in July and August.

As summer approaches, the public is urged to respect the water and take precautions to prevent last year’s rise from becoming a long-term trend.

As the weather warms across the UK, more people will be spending time near water.

Despite rising air temperatures, water temperatures remain dangerously cold, and many people are unaware of risks such as Cold Water Shock.

The National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) is encouraging people to learn about these risks and how to help themselves and others in a water-related emergency.

Water-related fatalities and their causes

In 2023, 236 people in the UK died in accidental water-related incidents, aligning with the five-year average of 243 but ten more than in 2022.

Additionally, there are 211 further cases where the cause is still unknown, which may increase the number of accidental fatalities as coroners provide more information.

The 2023 Water Incident Database (WAID), maintained by the NWSF, reveals several key findings:

  • Inland waterways accounted for 63% of accidental drownings, including rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs, and quarries.
  • Males represented 83% of accidental fatalities.
  • June had 28 fatalities, followed by 20 in July and 21 in August.
  • Everyday activities like walking and running accounted for 48% of fatalities, with 88 victims not intending to enter the water.
  • Of the 236 fatalities, 157 occurred in England, 47 in Scotland, 28 in Wales, and 4 in Northern Ireland.

#RespectTheWater campaign

The #RespectTheWater campaign, run by the NWSF, aims to provide life-saving advice and encourage people to take personal responsibility for their safety near water.

This year’s focus is on knowing how to help others in trouble.

The key steps are:

  • Call 999 for help.
  • Tell the person in trouble to float on their back.
  • Throw something that floats, like a life ring or an inflatable toy.

The Forum will promote the #RespectTheWater campaign throughout the summer, including on World Drowning Prevention Day on 25th July.

Expert advice on water safety

Dawn Whittaker, NWSF Chair and National Fire Chiefs Council Lead for Drowning Prevention and Water Safety, emphasised the importance of awareness: “These new figures give us a poignant reminder about the importance of raising awareness of water safety and drowning prevention.

“We will continue to urge the public to understand the dangers and to learn the importance of knowing what to do in an emergency: if you see someone in trouble in the water, the best way you can help is by staying calm, staying on land, and following the 3-step rescue guide – Call, Tell, Throw.”

Whittaker highlighted the unpredictability of summer weather: “It’s hard to predict what this summer will bring, but with the increased likelihood of extreme weather events like heatwaves and flooding, we will be promoting the #RespectTheWater campaign to help people stay safe while enjoying their time in and by the water.”

Rise in water sports and safety initiatives

Whittaker also noted the rise in participation in water sports and associated incidents: “Over the last few years, the number of people participating in water sports and water-based activities has risen as has the number of incidents associated with activities such as stand-up paddleboarding and open water swimming.

“We want people to enjoy the water safely, so we will continue to focus on guidance, education, and awareness for the public.”

The NWSF will continue its efforts to reduce deaths and injuries from drowning in the UK.

Whittaker concluded by referencing global efforts: “We will continue to work together to reduce deaths caused by drowning and water-related injuries in the UK.

“The global water safety community is onboard with a UN resolution recognising the scale and burden of drowning, calling for urgent international action.”

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