Norfolk’s Drowning Prevention Forum, led by the county’s fire and rescue service, is backing a national campaign launched today to help families stay safe in the water, both during and after lockdown.

The UK’s Drowning Prevention Charity, the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), is behind Drowning Prevention Week 2020 which runs from 12- 19 June. Norfolk’s Drowning Prevention Forum regularly meets to ensure a co-ordinated approach on safety for the county’s nearly 200 miles of inland waterways and 90 miles of coastline.

Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the usual level of service provided by rescue and lifeguard services are not going to be possible in 2020. So personal water safety is more important than ever before.

RLSS UK fears that families will flock to beaches and inland water locations this summer, without considering the potential dangers, putting themselves and others at risk. Around 700 people drown in the UK and Ireland every year and the charity aims to prevent drowning and promote water safety education through campaigns and its lifesaving programmes.

Due to the current pandemic, Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service has had to adapt its education work, but will be out at locations in the county, observing social distancing and raising awareness of the dangers in the water. This includes at high risk locations, such as Bawsey Pits in West Norfolk where crews have attended several water rescues. The service will also be running a social media campaign to raise awareness of the dangers and help people stay safer while enjoying Norfolk’s outdoor spaces.

Norfolk County Council is promoting the campaign through social media and by pushing safety messaging out via schools.

Broads Authority rangers will be out patrolling locations in the Broads where there is a high risk of accidents to raise awareness with members of the public. The Broads Authority will also highlight the campaign on social media channels, including the risks posed by swimming in the Broads, such as dredging barges, boats, sailing vessels, underwater vegetation and strong tides, as well as other safety tips to consider if you are on or near the water.

Norfolk’s Chief Fire Officer Stuart Ruff said: “It is so important to remind people to stay safe and take personal responsibility near water, especially at the present time as we ask the public to help us reduce risk to ensure we remain available for emergencies.”

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Cabinet Member for Communities and Partnerships at Norfolk Council Council, said: “Our fire and rescue service has specialist water rescue equipment and works closely with partner agencies to attend water-based emergencies across Norfolk. Most people are surprised to learn that you are more likely to die from drowning in the UK, than you are from being hit by a car or in a domestic fire."

Agencies within the Norfolk Drowning Prevention Forum include: Norfolk Police, Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service, Environment Agency, RNLI, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Norfolk County Council’s children’s services and the Mineral Products Association.

PC Paul Bassham of Norfolk Police said: "We want people to enjoy this beautiful county and all it has to offer, particularly when we’ve all been inside such a lot but please, if you are going out to the Broads, the coast and into the countryside, be aware of the risks of open water and stay safe.

norfolk dredger

"There are many unseen dangers such as a change in depth, strong current or riptides, sudden decreases in temperature, unseen objects and currents, which can cause even the strongest of swimmers to get into difficulty very quickly.”

People can also stay aware of their location when they’re out and about and utilise mobile phones apps such as what3words, which provides a simple and precise way to share your location quickly and easily if you get into difficulty. The Aweigh app, which is also free to download, provides information on tide times, sunrise and sunset and location information.

RLSS UK CEO, Robert Gofton said: “This year’s campaigns will focus on encouraging everybody to take personal responsibility near water, especially in light of the current challenges facing our emergency and rescue services. Venues and rescue services are doing everything they can to provide a service this summer, but the harsh reality is that in the current climate, despite a big effort, the usual level of service just isn’t feasible.

Accidental drowning incidents are largely avoidable if the correct choices are made, coupled with the skills and knowledge for personal survival and bystander rescue. These skills are easy to learn and free to access. We are urging individuals and families to take care, take responsibility and learn what to do in an emergency.

“We thank Norfolk’s Drowning Prevention Forum members for getting involved with the campaign, and for helping people learn the skills they need to enjoy water safely”.