Be water aware this summer

Image of Elizabeth Bridge with a lifebuoy in the foreground

The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead is working with private landowners and partners to make the water safer for everyone this summer.

The campaign, Be Water Aware this summer, coincides with the end of the school year and the start of the summer holidays when there is the temptation is to cool off in open water and families go on holiday to UK beaches and destinations abroad.

Last year, there were more water rescues in the Royal Borough than in any other Berkshire local authority. The Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service made a total of 36 water rescues, an increase of 50 percent from the previous two years. In the last five years, 148 people have been rescued from Berkshire’s waterways and sadly some have sadly lost their lives.

Even though the Royal Borough is landlocked, there is the River Thames, the Jubilee River, as well as private lakes and smaller bodies of water. Nationally these are the locations where 60 percent of all accidental drownings occur.

Cold water shock is the biggest killer of people who jump, or swim, in open bodies of water. On average the temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius even in the height of summer. To compare, a bath is between 32 and 40 degrees and swimming pools between 25-28 degrees Celsius.

Cold water shock triggers a gasping response when a person jumps into cold water which can then be inhaled into the lungs. Alternatively, body heat is moved from arms and legs to protect internal organs, leading to the inability to stay afloat. 

The Royal Borough’s leisure partner, Leisure Focus has been going into secondary schools to educate young people on the dangers of open bodies of water and advising them to cool off in supervised pools.

The council’s Community Wardens have been checking all the orange lifesaving buoys on Royal Borough land, as well as working with the private owners of Bray Lake, the National Trust, and Copas Farm, to make sure they are in good working order and ready in an emergency.

In a new initiative, QR codes have been put on each to provide an exact location to make it easier for emergency services to locate. The QR codes will also make it easier to report any damage or vandalism.

Councillor Simon Werner, the council leader and cabinet member for community partnerships, public protection, and Maidenhead, said: “We do not want any of our families to face the tragedy of losing a loved one in cold open bodies of water, so we’re working with partners to raise awareness of the risks and help people ‘Be Water Aware’ this summer. As the father of a 12-year-old I cannot imagine the pain of losing a loved one in such circumstances, so I want to get the message out and emphasise to people, please be aware of the dangers of open bodies of water.

“It’s not about being a strong swimmer, open water just stays so cold whatever temperature the day reaches.

“There are also uneven depths and strong currents, as well as dangers you cannot see lying on the bottom. There could have all sorts of rubbish like glass and metal you can hurt yourself on which could lead to life-changing injuries.

“Everyone has a responsibility to help keep people safe around water. Parents -please educate your youngsters on the dangers of open bodies of water, if you can, take them swimming in our Leisure Focus pools. 

“Our Community Wardens have already done a great job in visiting all the lifebuoys at the edge of the River Thames and at private lakes to make sure they are all in good working order. Please leave the safety rings in their casing so they are ready when they are unfortunately needed.

“And talk to your family and friends about the dangers.”

Olympic double gold medallist Tom Dean has collaborated with RBFRS to help encourage people not to go into open bodies of water and can be watched here.

Neil Whiteman, Community Safety Advisor for RBFRS, said: “Drowning is preventable and one drowning is one too many. We are urging people to take care around Berkshire’s waterways this year, particularly now as the warmer weather is upon us.

“RBFRS Prevention teams are working closely with local authorities, the Environment Agency, and our emergency service partners across the Thames Valley to ensure water safety messaging reaches schools, leisure centres and members of our communities. 

“There are numerous natural and man-made hazards located in our waterways, such as varying water currents, weirs, reed beds and dangerous objects beneath the surface that have been carelessly discarded.”

Neighbourhood Inspector Daniel Bennett, Thames Valley Police, said: “When someone finds themselves in difficulty in the water, it’s terrifying for those involved and brings together all agencies as life savers. No life should be lost to the water, and I really hope this work helps ensure everyone can enjoy the water safely.”

“My neighbourhood team will be patrolling our local open water spaces with our partner agency colleagues throughout the summer and will be joining them in sharing the important water safety advice with our residents and visitors.”

If you see someone in difficulty in the water, shout to them and encourage them to tilt their head back to float on their back. Call 999, locate a nearby lifesaving ring to throw it to them. It is not advised to get into the water yourself.

Keep up to date with the Be Water Aware this summer campaign, and other information, via the Royal Borough’s social media channels or sign up to the weekly newsletter.