Rise in drownings in under-20s in Wales prompts call for children and young people to be safe around open water
People of all ages in Wales are being encouraged to learn key safety tips to help children and young people stay safe around the sea, rivers and other open water.
The call from the Water Safety Wales group comes as annual drowning statistics showed a rise in accidental drowning deaths involving people aged under 20.
Four people under 20 died in accidental drownings in Wales in 2022 – the highest number since comparable data became available from the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID) in 2015.
In total, there were 22 deaths in Wales from accidental drowning in 2022 across inland and coastal locations, compared with 26 the previous year.
The accidental drownings form part of the 48 total water-related fatalities in the Wales for 2022, a decrease of one from the previous year and the fourth consecutive year of overall reduction in Wales.
Across the UK there were 226 accidental water-related fatalities - a decrease of 51 from the previous year. This was part of the 597 total drownings last year, a decrease of 19 from the previous year.
The rise in drowning incidents involving children and young people in Wales has prompted Water Safety Wales – a collaboration of organisations striving to reduce drowning in Wales – to issue four simple lifesaving tips to help young people stay safe when visiting open water:
- Stop and think: Is it a safe place to swim? Are there hazards beneath the water? Are there hidden currents or fast-flowing water? How deep is it and can you get out easily?
- Stay together: Always go with someone else
- Float: If you get into trouble in the water, float to live until you feel calm
- Call 999 or 112: If you see someone else in trouble in the water
Chris Cousens, Water Safety Wales Chair, said: “Everyone connected to Water Safety Wales was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic incidents involving young people losing their lives in open water in Wales last year.
“We believe that one drowning is one too many and the impact of losing a young person to drowning cannot be underestimated. People of all ages should learn and remember these four key safety tips for children and young people and adults should talk to their youngsters about them.
“More young people will be visiting the sea, rivers, reservoirs, lakes and other open water locations in the coming weeks and months as weather improves and schools break for summer holidays. The water is still cold enough to trigger cold water shock, the body’s natural reaction to cold water which can cause panic and gasping.
“If you get into trouble in the water, resist the natural instinct to panic and Float to Live. Lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float on your back, 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 at the coast, ask for the coastguard, if you are inland, ask for the fire service
‘Sea, rivers, lakes and other open water can look calm and inviting, but open water can be very different from a swimming pool. The water is usually moving and waves, currents and flow can make swimming difficult. It is important you know the depth of the water and what may be under the surface.’
In 2022 the Julie James MS, Welsh Government Climate Change Minister, committed her support to working with Water Safety Wales to deliver the Welsh Drowning Prevention Strategy. It came after tireless work from families in Wales affected by drowning, including Leanne Bartley, from Ruthin, who launched a petition in memory of her son Mark Allen calling for water safety improvements which gained more than 10,000 signatures.
Chris Cousens added: ‘It is really encouraging that the overall number of drownings in Wales fell slightly for the fourth year running in 2022 and that accidental drownings were down more than 15% on the previous year.
‘Having the support of Julie James and her teams is a major step forward for drowning prevention in Wales and we are delighted to be working with Welsh Government on our vision of a Wales with zero drowning.’
Minister for Climate Change, Julie James said, “I am pleased to see a reduction in the overall number of accidental drownings in Wales, however, the increase in accidental drowning deaths among young people is very concerning. I offer my profound sympathies to anyone who has been affected by any drowning incident in Wales.
“The Drowning Prevention Strategy and the work of Water Safety Wales have my full support. Work has already started to implement the recommendations of the Senedd Petitions Committee Water Safety and Drowning Prevention report and I look forward to working with Water Safety Wales on delivering the Drowning Prevention Strategy.”
The latest figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID), which is maintained by the NWSF, highlight drowning trends from 2022.
Key accidental drowning death WAID insights for Wales include:
- There were 22 accidental fatalities
- 91% of accidental fatalities were male
- Males 10 -19 were the highest group for accidental fatalities
- 50% of accidental drowning deaths happened at the coast and 50% at inland waterways
- Recreational activities accounted for 72% of accidental fatalities
- 28% 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.
- 46% of the drowning deaths in Wales happened in the months of June, July and August.
Water Safety Wales supports the National Water Safety Forum’s #RespecttheWater, a collective campaign aiming to provide simple life saving advice which can help members of the public take personal responsibility for their own and their family’s safety by remembering two lifesaving tips. The Forum will also be promoting the campaign later in the summer for World Drowning Prevention Day on 25th July.
Chris Cousens added: “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.”
For more information about the #RespectTheWater campaign visit https://respectthewater.com/