Water safety

Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in the UK and together with our partner agencies, we’re committed to ensuring everyone in Kent is equipped with the information they need to stay safe around water.

Most people don't think of the fire service when it comes to water rescue, but it's an important part of our work. While we hope you'll never need them, we have specialist water rescue crews ready to respond to emergencies across Kent 24/7. 

If you or someone else is in trouble in water call 999 immediately. For inland water rescue such as a lake or river, ask for the fire service, and for sea water rescue ask for the coastguard. 

Who's at risk?

We want everyone to enjoy being around water, but it’s important to be aware of the dangers that come with water environments.

Walkers, dog walkers, runners, anglers, ramblers – it doesn’t matter who you are or what your hobby is, anyone can end up in trouble in water. If you find yourself by a lake, river, the sea or any other expanse of water, taking just a few moments to look for potential hazards could make the difference between having an enjoyable time, or finding yourself in trouble.

General water safety advice   

  • if you are going out on your own, let someone know where you are going and when you are coming back.
  • take any warning or safety signs seriously – they are there for a reason
  • look out for trip or slip hazards around water and stick to proper pathways      
  • river banks and cliff edges may be unstable and could give way, so stay a safe distance from the edge
  • raise the alarm by calling 999 if you see someone in trouble in water

​​​​​​Swimming in open water

If you decide to swim in a lake, river or the sea, make sure you keep yourself as safe as possible:

  • take any warning or safety signs seriously – they are there for a reason
  • don't jump or dive in -  you don’t know how deep the water is and there may be unseen hazards
  • never swim near weirs or locks as there are often dangerous currents
  • always make sure someone on land nearby knows you are swimming

Sometimes the water is not as safe as it looks, and is full of dangers you can’t see:

  • the water is often deeper than it looks
  • it's very cold, and can quickly cause cramp and breathing difficulties   
  • it may contain hidden rubbish and debris such as shopping trolleys and broken glass which can cause injuries
  • sometimes it can be polluted and can make you very ill

What to do if you fall into water

If you find yourself unexpectedly in water, try to relax and float on your back to catch your breath. This will help you calm down and preserve energy before calling out for help or swimming to safety if possible.

Almost everyone can float if they take the right steps, and most people find it easier than they expect. Regardless of who you are or how you’re built, most of us can float with no, or a small amount of effort.

One of the first things some people try to do is strip off their clothes, thinking they’ll make them sink. But clothing can aid your buoyancy in the first few moments of getting into trouble, particularly if you’re lying back resting horizontal in the water as air gets trapped between the layers.

What to do if you see someone in trouble in water

  • call 999 - ask for the coastguard if the person is in the sea, or ask for the fire service if it’s any other area of water. 
  • it’s natural to want to help the person in trouble while rescue services are on the way – but you should never enter the water to try to save someone. This can end up adding to the problem.
  • if you go into the water you are likely to suffer from cold water shock which will leave you unable to help even if you are a strong swimmer.
  • perhaps the person can help themselves? Shout to them ‘swim to me’. The water can be disorientating and so this can give them a focus. Keep any instructions short, clear and loud.
  • look around for any lifesaving equipment. Depending on where you are, there might be a life ring or throwline – throw them to the person in the water. If attached to a rope, make sure you have secured or are holding the end of the rope so you can pull them in.
  • if there is no lifesaving equipment, look at what else you can use. There may be something that can help them stay afloat – even an item such as a ball could help. 
  • if the person manages to get out of the water after a period of struggling, they will always need medical attention – even if they seem fine. Drowning can occur at a later stage if water has already entered the lungs.

Staying safe around water after drinking alcohol 

Nationally, 89% of men who died after going missing on a night out were found dead in water. Here are some simple steps to take to stay safe when out drinking alcohol:

  • before you go out let someone know where you’re going and what time you think you’ll be home – if you don’t get home, they’ll know to raise the alarm
  • make sure your phone is fully charged
  • plan your journey home in advance – try to organise a lift or taxi, but if you plan to walk home choose well-lit routes, away from water
  • be aware of the amount of alcohol you’re drinking and know when to stop to stay safe
  • look out for friends who may have had too much to drink, make sure they don’t wander off and help them to get home safely