Last year, according to data released by the National Water Safety Forum, deaths in the water in Scotland rose from 99 to 105. Some of these tragically were suicides, others cause-unknown, but nevertheless the accidental drowning figures for Scotland are worryingly high, and, per population, over three times the rate of England.

Why are so many people dying this way?

What’s striking, and this follows the pattern of previous years, is that in 2021 mostly the problem is not with swimmers, but those who accidentally end up in the water. Only eight of the 57 listed as accidentally drowned last year were in the water for a swim. Compare with 21 who died in water whilst walking or running, two who died in animal rescue, four while angling, two while motorboating and one while cycling.

Are there any notable factors?

Many more men (over 80 per cent) are dying in the water than women

What can be done?

Make swimming lessons in primary schools statutory, as it is in England and Wales. One of the National Water Safety Forum’s targets is that “every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim and receive water safety education at primary school”. But in Scotland primary school lessons are provided on a council by council basis. Forty per cent of children still leave primary education unable to swim and there is a direct correlation between a child’s social and economic background and their opportunity to learn.

What if you accidentally fall in the water?

Follow the RNLI message and “float like a starfish”, lying on your back and spreading arms out wide, until you get your breath back, which may be affected by cold water shock, leading you to gasp.

How do I know if someone is in trouble?

Drowning often doesn’t conform to the stereoypical image of thrashing about. Often the person is silent, and appears to be trying to climb an invisible ladder.

What should you do if you do see someone in trouble?

Immediately call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. Even if you are a strong swimmer, avoid getting in the water. I write frequently on swimming and was really struck this advice given to me by an expert. “Don’t go into the water,” he said emphatically. “Start by talking to the person. You want to get them out of that worried state of shock that they are in. Throw something to them: a football. anything that floats that they can grab onto. If they are close you can try reaching rescuing, by stretching a big long stick out.”


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