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Staying Safe around Water Structures

Inland waterways, especially locks, pumping stations, sluices, and weirs, claim the lives of too many people each year.

This help guide outlines the dangers and hazards when boating or swimming near water structures in the United Kingdom.

EA Water Safety for Boaters and Swimmers

The Environment Agency (EA) and Waterways Ireland maintain canal locks, dams, and weirs around the United Kingdom.

As such, they use several measures to remind people about the dangers of swimming in river networks and interior waterways.

Hence, falling into the water, or swimming near structures, may result in serious injury or death in some cases.

Note: Understanding what the safety information, flags, and warning signs mean will help you stay safe around water (e.g. when fishing or swimming).

Safety Risks of Swimming in Inland Waterways

Traditionally, the summer period sees an increase in people putting themselves at risk by swimming in dangerous places.

Warning signs posted by the Environment Agency outline the potential dangers of underwater structures (weeds, garbage), sudden changes in depths, and strong currents.

Thus, ignoring certain water safety warnings is committing an offence and can result in a court appearance (with a £1,000 fine).

Simply put, the Environment Agency prohibits the jumping or diving off any of the assets (water structures) that they own, which may include:

  • Bridges
  • Locks (with guillotine gates)
  • Pipes
  • Pumping stations
  • Sluices
  • Weirs (used to help maintain normal water levels)

Note: The main section contains more advice and information about boating rules in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Staying Safe around British Rivers

  • Most of the major rivers in England and Wales contain unseen hazards and varying depth ranges. Thus, you should avoid jumping or diving head first into a river.
  • Canal locks, pipes, sluices, weirs, and other water features may help to create strong underwater currents.
  • Even in the warm summer months, the inland waters can be a very cold environment. Entering cold water can produce leg cramps, shock, and it may also cause breathing difficulties.
  • You should always be cautious about increased boat traffic near to Environment Agency water structures. It can be difficult for boaters on large vessels to spot swimmers in the water. Moreover, boat propellers can cause life threatening injuries.

Keeping Children Safe at Water Structures

Youngsters can get into trouble when swimming in water that contains hazardous objects. Furthermore, they may not be aware of how cold the water is, or how strong the currents are. These common hazards can catch bathers and swimmers off guard.

  • A responsible adult should always be supervising young children while they are swimming – and you should not let them go into the water alone.
  • Children often use airbeds, inner tubes, and other items for flotation. Wind and strong currents can blow or carry these devices into deeper water and no longer keep you afloat.
  • Parents and guardians should teach children how to swim and educate them about shallow areas where it is safer to swim.

Note: Another section explains how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for laypersons. Being trained in lifesaving and resuscitation techniques means you would know what to do first in emergency situations.

Information about Environment Agency Structures

Swimming within thirty six (36) metres of Environment Agency (EA) water structure is an offence in England and Wales.

A ‘Public Right of Navigation’ exists on Anglian navigations. Hence, only registered users can pass and repass via water crafts. Even so, it does not grant a permit for swimming.

Note: Another section explains how to apply to volunteer as a coastguard and help carry out search and rescue missions along the British shoreline.

Related Help Guides

Note: With more than 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in Britain, this short video explains some of the lesser-known dangers of swimming in a canal.

Safety Guide for Swimming Near Water Structures in United Kingdom