A call has been made for children to be taught about the dangers of cold water shock as figures suggest the number of young people accidentally drowning rose by almost a quarter last year.
To mark Drowning Prevention Week, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, has issued a water safety warning.
It is calling for the dangers of cold water shock to be taught in swimming lessons, or advice to be given during personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons.
Cold water shock can affect breathing and movement – even among strong and confident swimmers.
Anything below 15C is defined as cold water, and the shock can be the precursor to drowning, the RNLI website states.
There has been an overall reduction in numbers of accidental drownings over the past three years, figures from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) show.
But they also indicate the number of people aged 19 and under who accidentally drowned in the UK increased by 24% to 31 in 2018.
As well as cold water shock, the LGA said everyone needs to be more aware of other water risks, including tides and currents, and hidden dangers such as objects beneath the surface and unstable ground on beaches, cliffs, river banks and towpaths.
Councillor Simon Blackburn, chairman of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Many people drown after having had no intention of going into particularly deep water or after entering the water on the spur of the moment, so the need for education is clear if water-related deaths are to be reduced.
“A 50-metre swimming badge awarded in a calm, heated swimming pool doesn’t mean someone will survive if they deliberately or accidentally enter a cold canal or a fast flowing river.
“Teaching children about the dangers of cold water shock while they learn to swim or as part of PSHE lessons would be a simple way to improve water safety across the country and could make the vital difference in helping to save lives and avoid the tragic aftermath for families.”
Anyone who falls into water can increase their chances of survival by fighting their instinct to swim and float instead for a minute or two.
This will help to regain breathing control while the effects of cold water shock pass, before trying to swim for safety or calling for help.