National Water Safety Forum


Increase in accidental drownings lead for calls to Respect the Water


Water Safety Wales is urging people across the country to Respect the Water and reduce drowning this summer after a concerning increase in water-related deaths. 

The call comes as latest figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID) reveal that there were 25 deaths in Welsh waters from accidental drownings in 2020, up from 20 the previous year.(1) 

It is the first time in five years the number of accidental drownings in Wales has increased. These accidental drownings form part of the total water-related fatalities in Wales which stands at 50 for 2020, one fewer than the 2019 total of 51 (2).

The number of accidental drownings across the UK also rose in 2020 to 254, an increase of 34 on the previous year.

In a call to action, members of the drowning prevention group Water Safety Wales have come together to ask everyone to #RespectTheWater and support the national campaign to reduce drowning this summer. 

This joint campaign aims to reduce the number of water-related deaths and associated harm and is being supported by organisations from a wide range of sectors including sport governing bodies, rescue services, regulators, navigation and harbour authorities, local government, utilities and those representing quarry operators – all whom make up Water Safety Wales.

The national campaign, which aims to provide simple lifesaving advice which can help members of the public take responsibility for their own and their family’s safety by following these guidelines: 

  • If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, Float to live 
  • If you see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112


Other accidental drowning death insights in Wales:

  • Males make up 80% of all accidental drowning deaths
  • Almost half (44%) of accidental drownings involved people with no intention to enter the water, such as those walking or running by water
  • Inland open waters like rivers and lakes were the leading locations with 56% of accidental deaths
  • Almost a third (32%) of the accidental drownings happened in August and more than half (52%) happened on weekends


Chris Cousens, Chair of Water Safety Wales, said: 

Last summer presented considerable challenges at our coastal and inland waterways. This has meant that members of Water Safety Wales have decided to come together around the #RespectTheWater campaign to help prevent further deaths. We urge the public to understand the dangers, to learn the importance of knowing how to float to live, and to call 999 if others are in trouble and if there is a water related emergency.

In December, Water Safety Wales launched Wales’ first ever drowning prevention strategy, which has an aspiration of zero water related deaths in Wales by 2026.

Chris Cousens said: “Water Safety Wales believes one death is too many and the impact of losing someone to a death in the water cannot be underestimated. We will reduce drowning if everyone plays their part and Wales’ Drowning Prevention Strategy 2020-2026 aims to enable people living and visiting Wales to be safer in, on and around water by reducing water related deaths and incidents.”

To view and download the WAID 2020 report, which is maintained by the National Water Safety Forum, visit: 

For the Welsh version this press release please see here


 (1) The increase in accidental drownings in 2020 should be set against a longer term reducing accidental drowning trend and an unusual level of visitors to coastline and waterways in 2020. Whilst the events of last year were highly unusual, the impact of COVID-19 has had a direct impact on waterway visits, where the figures shown from the WAID may have been impacted. 

(2) This year’s WAID statistics includes a fatality figure from suspected or confirmed suicides. The figure for Wales was 14. Please refer to the Samaritans’ media guidelines when reporting on suicide  here and/or the IPSO guidelines: Reporting on suicide for journalists (

The WAID water-related fatal accident report compiles data from a variety of sources including coroner’s reports to determine the legal and medical ‘outcome’. The 2020 report has a higher number of ‘not recorded’ reports which may cause the 25 figure to be revised upwards when further information available.  

Water Safety Wales is a collaboration of individuals, communities, charities and public and private sector organisations with an interest in water safety and drowning prevention. It aims to reduce water related deaths and incidents in Wales by promoting the importance of a consistent and effective approach to water safety.

To download Wales’ Drowning Prevention Strategy 2020-2026 and for more information about Water Safety Wales, visit:

Water Safety Wales includes representatives from Adventure Smart Wales, Canal & River Trust, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Dyfed Powys Police, Gwent Police, Keep Wales Tidy, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Mineral Products Association, National Advisory Group to Welsh Government on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention, National Resources Wales, National Union of Students, National Water Safety Forum, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Royal Life Saving Society UK, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, Samaritans, Severn Trent Water, South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Swansea Council, Swim Wales, Surf Lifesaving Association of Wales, Water Safety Scotland.

The ‘Float to Live’ advice is a key message in the national drowning prevention campaign, #RespectTheWater. It urges people to follow this potentially lifesaving advice if they find themselves in trouble after falling into cold water: Fight your instinct to swim hard or thrash about – this can lead to breathing in water and drowning. Instead, relax and FLOAT on your back, until you have regained control of your breathing

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