National Water Safety Forum



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January newsletter from the National Water Safety Forum

Message from the Chairman

At the time of writing, all parts of the UK are in lockdown and new infections of coronavirus have surpassed the peak of last spring. Government guidelines have placed restrictions on travel and the public have been instructed only to take exercise in their locality.

However, National Water Safety Forum (NSWF) partners must be ready for a time when restrictions will be lifted and we may, once again, see record-levels of visitors at the UK's coastal and inland water destinations.

In preparation for this, NWSF partners have contributed to the review of Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety and I will report back on this in due course. I know that NWSF member organisations continue to work tirelessly to keep the public safe during this challenging time.

To assist with our on-going monitoring of water-related incidents, the NWSF has produced an interactive report which allows users to review the available data about reported cases of accidental drowning in the UK.

Finally, I am pleased to say that at the end of last year, the first-ever Welsh drowning prevention strategy was unveiled by Water Safety Wales. I look forward to sharing the success of the partnership and hope to see more strategies of this kind come forward from other parts of the UK.

Thank you for your continuing efforts on behalf of drowning prevention and water safety.

George Rawlinson
National Water Safety Forum


New WAID Dashboard

View the new interactive report, which allows users to visualise water-related incidents by local authority area, as well as explore how demographic factors, such as age and gender, impact on accidental drowning and unintentional entry into open water.

The interactive report contains information relating to UK water incidents that were reported between 2014-2019.

Beach Safety Workshop

Towards the end of last year, the independent review of the Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety was published. The review, which was carried out by DWF on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, considers the legal framework and responsibility for water safety at the UK coast.

Issues such as the definition of a beach, current legal duties and emergency search and rescue response are all considered.

On Thursday, January 21 between 10am-1pm, the National Water Safety Forum will be hosting a feedback and review session. The session will be led by NSWF Chairman George Rawlinson, and will provide opportunity for discussion about the contents of the review of the Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety. There will be a report back about this workshop in the next edition of the NWSF newsletter.

Reporting Back: Winter Coastal Safety Campaign

Joanne Groenenberg, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, reports back on a recent public safety campaign:

Over the Christmas and New Year period, HM Coastguard and RNLI teamed up to promote a new winter safety campaign aimed at ensuring people were as safe as possible over what can traditionally be a busy period along our coastlines.

Back in the summer the two organisations, recognising the likely surge in coastal visits, came together to promote a safety campaign which urged people to avoid taking inflatables to sea, find out about rip currents, check tides, and call 999 Coastguard in an emergency.

The winter campaign focused on subjects most likely to cause incidents over the winter period: tidal cut-offs, cliff safety and winter seas. Three films were made using Coastguard and RNLI footage, along with some impactful real-life material. Some of the messaging reminded the public to stay well back from stormy, wintery seas and cliff edges, to take a fully charged phone with them, to check tide times before they go and to remember to call 999 in an emergency at the coast. Online advertising was targeted at those most likely to be involved in winter coastal incidents; we used lifeboat launch data to help inform this decision. Organic social media posts also ensured that we delivered our messages to those who needed them most.

Although we haven’t received all of the analytics from the campaign yet, we do know that just under 4million people were reached on Facebook as a result of the advertising and an additional 425,000 as a result of the MCA’s organic feed. Our NWSF partners also helped us to reach as many people as possible on their social media channels so we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. We hope to run the campaign again in the spring, dependent upon lockdown measures.

Wales Drowning Prevention Strategy

Shortly before the Christmas break, the first-ever Wales Drowning Prevention Strategy was launched by Lesley Griffiths MS, Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. The strategy was drawn up by Water Safety Wales and has set an aspiration to see zero water-related fatalities in the country.

The key aims of the strategy, which runs from 2020-2026, are to improve water incident data and intelligence in Wales and promote and develop learning to swim and water safety education. Support will also be offered to communities to develop water safety plans to understand and mitigate any risks.

The strategy aims to promote public awareness of water-related risks and ensure consistent safety messages reach the right people at the right time, by promoting safe participation in water activities across Wales.

Visit Scotland: The Year of Coast and Water

Each year Scotland’s national tourism organisation, Visit Scotland, chooses themes to promote the wealth of cultural, historical and natural treasures which can be found in the country. Last year was designated to be the year of Scotland’s coasts and waters but owing to the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic, Visit Scotland has decided to continue with the theme in 2021.

To help ensure that members of the public are kept safe when visiting inland and coastal waters, Visit Scotland has partnered with Water Safety Scotland to promote a Water Safety Code.

Safety information will be distributed alongside marketing material which displays Scotland’s waterside destinations. The Water Safety Code explains how to manage risks that may lead to entering the water unintentionally, and what to do in an emergency.

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NWSF Coastal Group update

Covid-19, challenges and coastal impact

The National Water Safety Forum's Coastal Group reunited after longer than usual due to the challenges and conflicting priorities that came with the global pandemic.


Looking back

The group held a virtual get together which kicked off with each organisation reflecting on the impact of Covid-19. Discussions were held on how each member could continue to support one another and work towards the joint aim of reducing drownings by 50% by 2026 amidst these unique challenges. The virtual room also exchanged lessons learnt for the future.

Observations, new trends and activities

With many people flooding to the beaches for ‘staycations’ or to exercise, unsurprisingly it was the busiest summer on record for Her Majesty’s Coastguard, the RNLI and other local authorities and emergency services, in terms of emergency search and rescue incidents at the coast.

Some coastal visitors  were not familiar with potential hazards, but even the most frequent visitors were caught out by coastal dangers. From boating to kayaking, experienced and inexperienced participants alike, many people have also been going out on the water for all types of recreational water activities, with paddle boarding rising in popularity more than ever before.

Collectively these circumstances presented unique challenges for RNLI lifeguards, lifeboat crews and Coastguard Rescue Teams, and many others, but also had implications for all members in the group. From local authorities responsible for managing crowds on the beach; boating organisations wanting to ensure safe sailing in line with government guidance for both new and experienced members and public users; to managing safety messaging and government guidance for all stakeholders across all nations. Other critical considerations and shared challenges included the human impact on staffing and resources for all members, and the need to ensure safe working practices.



But there were highlights and positives to take from the challenging circumstances. We saw partnership collaborations such as the National Water Safety forum advice for maintaining the safety of the public and staff during CoVID 19 and a  joint RNLI and HMCG multi-media beach safety campaign in relation to the influx of people to the coast, with the main aim of keeping the public safe and aware of potential coastal dangers. Other collaboration also emerged such as between the RNLI and RYA.


Looking ahead

It’s predicted that it will be a busier winter than usual, with more people visiting the coast for walks while other indoor activities are not possible. Also, with more UK holidays likely again in the summer, beaches and popular beauty spots will be much more crowded than in the past. Against this context, the group will continue to work closely together to support and collaborate with each other to develop safety campaigns and other initiatives to promote safe behaviour at the coast during these unprecedented times.


Other updates

The group also had updates on the SLSGB/HM Coastguard Agreement, RNLI/HMCG Operational agreement, RNLI Water Safety Strategy, National Water Safety Forum progress update, WAID new process and discovery phase and the latest progress on the review of legal responsibilities for beach safety.

The group will meet virtually again in February to work closer than ever to guide safe behavior for everyone visiting the coast.




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November newsletter from the National Water Safety Forum

Message from the Chairman

As we approach winter, severe gales have lashed our coasts and torrential rain has swelled rivers and lakes. This serves as a stark reminder of the unrelenting power of the weather and the risks it can present.

In our wake are the tragedies of hot summer days in, on, or around the water. So, the Forum's agenda is more important than ever. Thank you to all organisations and their Forum representatives for their individual and collective efforts to reduce drowning.

I would like to draw your attention to the Review of the Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety which  was published earlier this month. I have been asked by the UK Government to lead a consultation on the report - I will be in touch with NSWF members about this in due course.

We remain focused too, on our ambition to replace WAID. Quite a challenge, but a high value reward at the end of it.

There is positive progress overall, and the Forum is in good shape to make a difference even during these challenging times, but we can always do better. Even more work to improve communications and to reduce water-related suicide is planned.

Let's keep our goals in sight and not sway from the task ahead.

Thank you for reading this newsletter. Ideas for its content and improvement are welcome.

George Rawlinson MBE
National Water Safety Forum

Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety Review

The independent Review of the Legal Responsibilities for Beach Safety has now been published. The review, which was carried out by DWF on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, considers the legal framework and responsibility for water safety at the UK coast.

Issues such as the definition of a beach, current legal duties and emergency search and rescue response are all considered within the report. In addition, a number of recommendations are offered to help improve water safety:

Short term
1.       Update and consolidate guidance for managing beach safety. This task has been completed and the guidance can be found online here
2.       Engage in stakeholder management of this topic to drive solutions

Medium term
1.       Create a new legal duty to ensure beach safety
2.       Update the duties of the HM Coastguard to make them fit for the next 100 years

Long term
1.       Clarify that HSG 179 does not apply to the sea
2.       Consider if and how the Civil Contingencies regime could apply
3.       Consider changing the approach to beach lifeguarding and its long-term sustainability.

Robert Courts, Minister for Aviation, Maritime & Security, has asked the NWSF chairman to run a consultation with members in order to gather the views on the possible merits or drawbacks of a new legal duty. The consultation on this will take place until January 2021 and as such, all members of the NWSF will be invited to participate in an online survey to provide their views.

Surf Life Saving GB and Coastguard announce partnership


This new partnership will see specially trained SLSGB club volunteers responding to incidents at the coast that require assistance under the direction and at the request of HM Coastguard.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and this past summer, which has seen high numbers of visitors to the UK coastline, SLSGB and HM Coastguard have worked closely together to provide additional safety support to the public with voluntary beach and inshore coastal patrols.

Forum Focus: Local Ambassadors

Ross MacLeod, public affairs manager for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), reflects on a successful life-saving outreach programme:

'This summer the RNLI faced unprecedented challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With restrictions being eased the RNLI found itself in a position where our volunteer crews and lifeguards were needed more than ever.

Many coastal businesses are in areas where they encounter water users on a regular basis. The RNLI aimed to equip these businesses with the information and resources to enable them to deliver water safety messages and to know what to do if they saw someone in trouble.

We launched at the beginning of August with a short promotional social media film, which contributed to a significant number of signups.

To date, we have had 157 businesses sign up to be part of the scheme and there are plans in place to increase this further. Individuals can also sign up via the RNLI website, upon doing so they are provided with the information needed to have an informal conversation with members of the public, information about what to do if they saw someone if trouble, a simple poster with water safety messaging and a social media post for them to share via their platforms.'

NWSF chairman honoured for contributions to water safety

George Rawlinson, former RNLI Operations and Safety Director and current volunteer chairman of the  National Water Safety Forum, has committed to more than 29 years of lifesaving with the RNLI along with UK and Ireland Search and Rescue. He has been awarded with a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services.

George’s inspirational leadership was the driving force behind the UK’s first National Drowning Prevention Strategy in 2016 which was subsequently adopted by the Government. The strategy served as the foundation of many city, inland and coastal water safety forums. Since then, the UK’s drowning rate has steadily reduced.

A number of RLNI volunteers were also recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours.


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September newsletter from the National Water Safety Forum

Message from the Chairman


The summer of 2020 has been like none other before it.

Since the last National Water Safety Forum newsletter went out, many restrictions on activities on and near the water have been lifted. With this has come significant challenges for our emergency services and the members of the National Water Safety Forum.

During the August heatwave, most days beaches in some parts of the country were as busy as they would be on bank holidays, with lifeguards reporting record numbers of visitors. Last month, the coastguard issued a warning as they received highest number of call-outs in a single day for more than four years.

Tirelessly, members of the National Water Safety Forum have risen to the occasion despite having to deal with their own lockdown challenges. Through running bold and innovative awareness-raising campaigns, relevant to both coastal and inland waters, forum members been getting life-saving water safety messages out to the public. All those involved can be truly proud of their efforts and in this newsletter, we have highlighted just some of that great work.

As we enter into a new season, we will be reflecting upon the lessons from this summer and challenges for the coming six months.

Until next time,

George Rawlinson,


National Water Safety Forum


Accidental drowning deaths continue to fall across the UK

Earlier this summer, the National Water Safety Forum released the Water Incident Database (WAID) figures for 2019, which revealed that there were 223 deaths in UK waters from accidents or natural causes, a decrease of 40 from the previous year.

This represents a continuing downward trend in the number of accidental deaths in the country’s waters, and a 25 per cent decrease since 2016, when the forum launched the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy.


New guidance for beaches amid COVID-19 pandemic

A document has been produced for coastal beach managers and landowners, including councils and private organisations, and reflects the current experience of members of the National Water Safety Forum and other interested parties who seek to reduce drowning and water-related harm in the UK.

Specifically, it is concerned with the following aspects of beach safety: mitigating the risk of fatal and non-fatal drowning and water-related injuries; the challenges and practical considerations of seeking to maintain social distancing at the beach; and assisting duty holders with the obligation to update their risk assessments and to consult with staff/volunteers on the implications.

The current document and other COVID-19 related advice can be accessed here


Drowning Prevention Week

Between June 12-19, The Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) held its Drowning Prevention Week - an annual outreach event which helps educate millions of people across the UK and the Republic of Ireland about how to stay safe on and near water.

In previous years, members and supporters of RLSS would deliver practical water safety lessons across the country as a part of the week, but social distancing measures made it necessary to provide this training online. RLSS produced water safety lesson videos, which more than 20,000 people accessed. Over the course of the week, more than 21million saw and heard stories which contained life-saving water safety messages in the media.


Swim England publishes Returning to the Pool guidance

Ahead of the reopening of pools in England, Swim England published its comprehensive Returning to the Pool guidance.

Operators, casual swimmers, clubs, coaches, teachers and those attending swimming lessons can now see how we will have to adapt to a "new normal" to ensure the safety of everyone visiting and working at facilities.

The guidance is based on the latest scientific advice and Government guidelines, and will be regularly updated to reflect any changes announced in the future.


Float to live

This summer, with more people choosing to take a domestic holiday, some British beaches have reported record numbers of visitors. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) cannot provide a patrol on every beach, so has made a huge amount of effort to spread key water safety messages.

The RNLI produced an impactful video, Float to Live, which provides clear and life-saving advice about what to do if you accidentally enter open water. Most recently, the RLNI partnered with LadBible to promote a film which demonstrated the dangers of tombstoning and cold-water shock. The film has made a huge splash by clocking up over 1million views and 1,000 shares on Facebook.

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NWSF publishes new guidance for beaches amid Covid-19 pandemic


Maintaining the safety of the public and staff on coastal beaches during COVID-19

This document has been produced for coastal beach managers and landowners, including councils and private organisations, and reflects the current experience of members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), and other interested parties, who seek to reduce drowning and water-related harm in the UK.   In developing this document, we have also sought the views of international colleagues facing similar challenges.

Specifically, it is concerned with the following aspects of beach safety

  • Mitigating the risk of fatal and non-fatal drowning and water-related injuries.
  • The challenges and practical considerations of seeking to maintain social distancing at the beach.
  • Assisting duty holders with the obligation to update their risk assessments and to consult with staff/volunteers on the implications.

The current document and other Coivid-19 related advice can be accessed here


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