National Water Safety Forum


Rise in accidental drowning in Wales prompts call to be safe while enjoying open water


There were 26 deaths in Wales from accidental drowning in 2021 across inland and coastal locations, compared with 25 death the previous year. 

The accidental drownings form part of the 49 total water-related fatalities in the Wales for 2021, a decrease of 1 from the previous year. 

Across the UK there were 277 accidental water-related fatalities - an increase of 23 from the previous year. This was part of the 616 total drownings last year, a decrease of 15 from the previous year. 

The consistently high number of accidental fatalities has prompted Water Safety Wales – a collaboration of  organisations striving to reduce drowning in Wales – by issuing coordinated advice for those visiting and enjoying waterways and coastlines. Their work is part of the #RespectTheWater campaign. This joint campaign, run by Water Safety Wales and the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), aims to reduce the number of water-related deaths and accidents. 

In a call to action, members of Water Safety Wales are asking everyone to support and promote the national #RespectTheWater campaign, to reduce drowning this summer. 

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

  • If you get into trouble in the water, Float to Live.
  • Lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float, then get control of your breathing before calling for help or swimming to safety.
  • If you see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112. If you are the coast ask for the coastguard, if you are inland, ask for the fire service.

The latest figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID), which is maintained by the NWSF, highlight drowning trends from 2021.

Key accidental drowning death WAID insights for Wales include: 

  • There were 26 accidental fatalities
  • 69% of accidental fatalities were male
  • Males 20 - 39 were the highest group for accidental fatalities
  • 62% of accidental fatalities happened at coastal waters
  • Recreational activities accounted for 58% of accidental fatalities (see Figure 7)
  • 30% of people had no intention to enter the water, such as those walking, with causes including slips, trips and falls, being cut off by the tide, or swept in by waves.

Chris Cousens, Water Safety Wales Chair, said: “The pandemic continued to present considerable challenges at our coastal and inland waterways last year. The #RespectTheWater campaign is designed 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.

‘Last year we saw increased participation in some activities such as stand-up paddleboarding and the consequent rise in incidents, which will be the subject of further Water Safety Wales focus. 

‘We would encourage anyone trying stand-up paddleboarding on open water to consider the following:

  • Know your limits. Be honest with yourself about your and your companions’ knowledge, fitness and ability. Only attempt a paddle if the conditions are within you and your group’s capabilities.
  • Check the latest forecast for your day - check the wind strength and direction again on arrival, avoid offshore winds and strong currents, river levels can rise and fall.
  • Wear a leash (attached correctly from your body to the board). Info on choosing the right kind of leash for your activity is
  • Wear a buoyancy aid and a wetsuit or insulating layers covered by a windproof jacket.
  • If you can, always go with a friend. If you are going out alone, always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • Always carry a charged mobile phone in a waterproof pouch and keep it easily accessible. If you need help, call 999 and ask for Fire and Rescue Service (inland waters) or Coastguard (sea and coastal area)

Chris Cousens added: “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 2021 report, which is maintained by the National Water Safety Forum, visit: 



(1) 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 (

Notes to editors 

English language interviews with Chris Cousens are available by calling XXXX or by email on XXXX. Welsh language interviews are also available on request.

Download a video featuring family members who have lost loved ones to drowning here:

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

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.

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.

A trend report on water-related fatalities in Wales is online here: waid-wales-2021-summary-11-final.pdf (


WAID data detail 277 accidental fatalities, 7 crimes, 137 not recorded, 195 suicide suspected. 

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