The dangers of swimming in reservoirs as warm temperatures are about to return

Every year, large numbers of individuals and families take to the water to swim, paddle or use inflatables in reservoirs across Wales, putting their lives and the lives of others at risk.

Welsh Water, the first and still the only not-for-profit utility company in England and Wales, said there had been a significant increase in cases of unauthorized bathing in reservoirs in the past year.

This week the company launched its ‘Beautiful but Deadly’ safety campaign urging people in Wales to educate themselves about the dangers lurking beneath the beautiful surface of some of Wales’ beauty spots.

According to the National Water Safety Forum, in 2021 there were 49 water-related fatalities in Wales and 69% of accidental fatalities were male.1

The dangers of swimming in reservoirs include:

  • Equipment hidden below the surface of the water that can operate without warning.
  • Deep, freezing water that can challenge even the most experienced swimmers.
  • Reduced chances of rescue due to the remoteness of many tanks, with little or no mobile reception.

Following a successful pilot in 2020, organized open water swimming activities are now being rolled out to a small number of reservoir sites that have visitor centers and where it is considered safe and appropriate to swim. These open water swimming sessions are controlled and supervised, with RLSS qualified open water lifeguards.

Welsh Water Tourist Attractions Manager Mark Davies said: ‘In light of recent news of the tragic death of a young boy in Swansea so early in the summer months, that message has never been also important. We encourage people to come and visit and enjoy our sites over the Jubilee weekend, but it is crucial that entry into the water is only during a secure and supervised session booked through one of our water sports centers. Our rangers work hard to patrol our reservoirs in the interest of public safety, and you’ll see more of us during the summer months, but we can’t be everywhere at once.

“The reservoirs are full of hidden dangers, including hidden automatic machines that can run at any time and incredibly strong currents, which means even the strongest swimmers can be swept away. The water also contains freezing temperatures that can send swimmers into a cold water shock.

“We know the water may seem tempting, but unauthorized swimming puts not only your own life at risk, but also the lives of people who might try to help you.”

If a person has trouble in the water, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) encourages people to float for a living. People have to fight the urge to panic and relax and float on their back until the effects of the cold water shock pass and the person can rescue themselves or call for help.

Chris Cousens, chairman of the Water Safety Wales Forum, said: ‘Unfortunately we have seen 49 water-related deaths in Wales in 2021. The per capita accidental drowning rate in Wales is double that of the UK. Water Safety Wales believes one drowning is too many and we fully support the efforts of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to reduce the number of serious incidents in open water. We encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for their own safety and that of their family by remembering these vital tips:

  • If you are having trouble in the water, float to live.
  • Lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float, then control your breathing before calling for help or swimming to safety.
  • If you see someone else struggling in the water, call 999 or 112. If you are near a reservoir, river, canal or other inland, ask for the fire and rescue service. If you are on the coast, ask the Coast Guard.

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