National Water Safety Forum



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Public urged to “Respect the Water” as new statistics show drowning deaths increased last year, with more dying inland than around the coast.

Following a concerning increase in water-related deaths last year, over 50 organisations are, for the first time, issuing coordinated water safety advice for those visiting and enjoying waterways and coastlines as part of the #RespectTheWater campaign. This joint campaign, run by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), aims to reduce the number of water-related deaths and accidents.


The collaborating members of the NWSF, come from a wide range of sectors including sports governing bodies, rescue services, charities, regulators, navigation and harbour authorities, local government, utilities and those representing quarry operators.


In a call to action, members of the NWSF 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 aim of this landmark coordinated approach is to significantly increase public awareness of key water safety risks as summer approaches and lockdown lifts.


The campaign comes with the latest figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID), which is maintained by the NWSF. It shows that there were 254 deaths in UK waters from accidental drownings in 2020 across inland and coastal locations, this is an increase of 34 from the previous year. These accidental drownings form part of the total water-related fatalities in the UK which stands at 631 for 2020, an increase of 10 on the previous year.


Key accidental drowning death WAID insights include:

  • Inland open waters, such as rivers, canals,lakes, reservoirs and quarries continue to be the leading locations with 58% of deaths (N=139).
  • Males continue to over represent with 78% of deaths (N=199).
  • Almost half of (43%) 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 (N= 107).


Dawn Whittaker, CEO East Sussex Fire Rescue Service & NWSF Chair-Designate said:

“Last summer presented considerable challenges at our coastal and inland waterways. This has meant that members of the National Water Safety Forum 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.

We will continue to work together to reduce deaths caused by drowning and water related injuries in the UK, and endeavour to reach our collective goal of halving accidental drownings in the UK by 2026. This comes at a time when the global community have committed to a UN resolution that recognises for the first time the scale and burden of drowning and calls for urgent international action.”


To view and download the WAID 2020 report visit:

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Coastal Working Group: Quarterly Recap

Reflections and preparations - Summer 2021

As we enter May and approach the busy summer season – ahead of a year predicted to be like no other – the National Water Safety Forum’s Coastal Group met virtually to reflect on the progress and preparations in place by all members, which will help keep the public and staff stay safe on beaches.

To name but a few highlights: The National Water Safety Forum were pleased to share the updated version of the COVID 19 beach safety guidance for local authorities, owners, managers and operators. The guidance has been developed to help mitigate drowning and water-related harm at beaches, while also covering the challenges and practical considerations of seeking to maintain social distancing at the beach. Find out more here.

HM Coastguard gave insight on how coastguard incident data is being used to support stakeholders and partners by identifying activities and locations where emergency search and rescue help is required at the coast. The data is being shared so that necessary mitigations can be taken. The update also included future plans to give HM Coastguard staff access to live data, which can be shared to inform and shape stakeholder activity and action in relation to beach safety.


A single national message

The RNLI presented on the #RespectTheWater brand. The group recapped on the progress and looked to the future of how the forum will apply the new brand across all organisations – an existing RNLI brand which has been refreshed and remodelled for national use. It has been designed with the aim to unify and amplify water safety messages with a single, national call to action that can be applied to both coastal and inland messaging by the forum and beyond. It will also feature in the joint RNLI and HM Coastguard beach safety campaign going live this summer.


Key dates, news and activities

Members also reflected on the new UN General Assembly resolution, committed to greater international efforts to prevent drowning, which also introduces the first-ever World Drowning Prevention Day (July 25). The virtual room touched upon the potential plans for the future in relation to the day and opportunities for safety messaging.

The annual, upcoming Maritime Safety Week campaign (5-9 July) – a central government initiative for maritime safety – was discussed and the potential for joined up activity and roundtables, with a particular emphasis this year on beach safety.

RoSPA reported on emerging projects including digital interventions for public rescue equipment like life rings, exploring issues and the possibility for new guidance around placement and types of equipment for various locations, plus much more.


The working group will meet again in early September to reflect on the summer.


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