Stay safe around the water

Published: Friday, 22nd May 2020

With temperatures soaring and swimming pools still closed due to the coronavirus restrictions, more people are enjoying time outside alongside Oxford’s rivers, streams and lakes. 

But new warnings of the dangers and advice on how to stay safe have been issued ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend.

While government guidelines on exercise outside during the pandemic do not prevent swimming outside, Oxford City Council and emergency service partners warn that there are still many other potentially fatal risks. Every year there are water safety incidents and drownings.

Maintaining strict social distancing rules and being considerate of others is still important to those enjoying time alongside the water or doing water sports such as canoeing or paddle-boarding.

The risks from drowning and injury in cold shallow rivers with hidden hazards are serious and the public are urged to remember the Wild Water Code.

  • Wild water – swimming in rivers and lakes is very different to a pool.  In addition to strong currents, the cold water temperature can easily shock, limit ability to breathe and can make you tired very quickly
  • Look before you leap – before getting in, are you going to be able to get out again?  Steep and slippery banks can make it hard to get out and if tired you can get into difficulty
  • Hidden dangers – you never know what’s beneath the surface.  Hazards include rocks, broken glass, bikes, needles and pollution in the water.
  • Rock bottom – Never jump from height – particularly Oxford’s bridges. The water beneath can be very shallow and there are hidden dangers
  • Don’t drink and drown – drink or drugs are a lethal cocktail when swimming.  They can limit your ability to swim, lower your inhibitions and increase the chance of taking dangerous risks.
  • At times of flood, never enter the water
  • Raise the alarm – call 999 – never try to enter the water yourself       

Posters and leaflets have been distributed to key sites in the city such as Port Meadow, where swimming and water sports are popular. They are also displayed on bridges and points where people may be tempted to jump in from height.

“We know it is hard with the open-air pool and other leisure centres closed due to the coronavirus restrictions. We will be working to reopen these facilities as soon as we are allowed.

“But for those tempted to swim in Oxford’s rivers and lakes, remember that wild swimming comes with real risks. 

“The shock of cold water, hidden hazards, the temptation to drink alcohol and swim – these are all genuinely dangerous and even strong swimmers can easily get into trouble.  Most importantly – jumping in, particularly from bridges has proved fatal in the past.”
 Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for a Safer, Healthier Oxford