Be water safe as you swim

Karen Neville


The Royal Life Saving Society has invaluable advice to help you enjoy the water safely this summer

With temperatures set to soar again this week there’s always the temptation to jump in the water and cool down but make sure you do so safely, especially if you’re taking the plunge at an open water site.

Sadly, a very high proportion of accidental drownings take place at lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs and quarries where the lure of cool water on a hot day can be too much to resist.

The Royal Life Saving Society say: “The benefits of swimming and dipping in open water are well documented. Not only does being in or on open water allow new adventure it also has documented benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. All of these hazards can be controlled through proper organisation and planning.”

Risks to consider in open water include: the shock of cold water which can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty of getting you if you should get into trouble; lack of safety equipment; the hight of the fall or jump; depth of the water – this can change and be unpredictable; underwater objects which may not be visible; obstacles or other people in the water; uneven beds or banks; strong currents that can sweep you away rapidly; water pollution.

Sadly, a very high proportion of accidental drownings take place at lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs and quarries where the lure of cool water on a hot day can be too much to resist.

Drowning is preventable, yet over 400 lives are lost to drowning across the UK and Ireland, every year. If you see someone in trouble, the RLSS advises:

Step 1. Keep alert
Don’t expect a casualty to be shouting for help. They may be struggling to breathe, and drowning looks very different to how it is portrayed in the movies.

If you’re not sure, shout: ‘Do you need help?’ If they say yes or don’t answer at all, it’s time to act.

Step 2. Resist temptation
Don’t be tempted to go in. The water might be cold, which will limit your ability to swim. And whatever has caused the casualty to need help is likely to happen to you too. Stay well back from the edge.

Step 3. Call 999 or 112
Call the emergency services before you do anything else, so help will be on its way.

Or ask someone else to call while you try to help the casualty. If you’re alone without a phone, find someone who can call for help.

Step 4. Shout and signal
From the shore you have a better view of the area than the casualty. Shout and encourage them to reach a life ring in the water, a jetty, or a shallower area of water. Remind them to kick their legs.

5. Find a rescue aid
If there is a life ring, throw bag (filled with rope), or other public rescue aid equipment nearby, quickly read any instructions then throw it to the casualty.

If there is no public rescue aid equipment, throw anything that will float.
Step 6. Safe rescue

Before you pull the casualty in, get down on one knee or lie down so you don’t fall in.

Remember, even if your rescue attempts fail, emergency services are on their way. Keep sight of the casualty to help the emergency services locate them quicker.

Find out more

Visit the Royal Life Saving Society ( for more tips and invaluable advice. 

Barry the pig

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Barry the pig needs your help – his home is flooded and he can’t swim!

He lives with dogs, cats, sheep, alpacas, ponies, parrots and tortoises at the Berkshire branch of the National Animal Welfare Trust at Trindledown Farm, in Great Shefford, near Hungerford.

The ten-acre site is a rescue and rehoming centre specialising in the care of elderly animals and needs your help to stay open after being hit by flooding.

Barry hates water and the branch has launched a Just Giving campaign called Barry Can’t Swim with the aim of raising £5,000 to build ditches along the boundary to enable the flood water to drain away naturally into the flood alleviation stream further down in the village.

The centre is totally self-funded and receives no help from anywhere except its fundraising activities and relies on being open to the public for events as well as the income from the café and onsite charity shop.

Ellie Humphreys works for the charity and says: “We are flooded and on the verge of having to close the centre to the public until the water subsides.

“The rehoming of animals does not cover the cost of vets bills, accommodation or maintenance of the 20-year-old farm.

“Not only is this impacting on our funds, all of our field animals have been put on higher ground which is not ideal for elderly animals and their joints.”

And it’s far from ideal for Barry in particular. He lives with a sheep called Bjork who has special needs and was rejected by the other sheep, but now their area is becoming inaccessible.

Ellie adds: “The last time we flooded was 2014 where our fields were out of action for three months.

“Unfortunately we are in the Lambourn Valley so we receive the overflow of water from the higher ground which then runs through half our grazing land, our dog exercise areas and our car parking field.”

Not having the fields also means they cannot rotate the field animals to eat the grass so the centre is forced to buy hay and feed adding to the costs.

Help Barry

The Just Giving campaign aims to raise £5,000 to pay for the ditch work, to help click below

Alzheimer’s memory walk

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Tony Kershaw tells us more about Wantage Life Savers who are based at Wantage Leisure Centre where they train and help others become Water Smart

Wantage Life Savers is a small club but continues to have big ambitions. For over 25 years we have competed at local, regional and national life-saving competitions. This year we are planning to compete on the Commonwealth stage.

Many members have been reaping the rewards of their twice-weekly training sessions by successful medalling at the Royal Life Saving Society’s (RLSS) UK National Life Saving Championships year after year.

As a club, affiliated to the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), Wantage Life Savers are committed to provide volunteer-led, community-based training to raise awareness of water safety to work to prevent drowning and encourage the education of water safety. Here in the Thames Valley alone, between 2012-2016, some 66 people have died through drowning – the highest number of which have been young men aged 20-29.

Our club works to deliver training and education for the public, schools, clubs and a range of organisations to seek to reduce this number of fatalities. We have been successful in providing tuition to our members and the public in the theoretical and practical skills required to be safe in and around water such as swimming pools, rivers, reservoirs, lakes, flooded gravel pits and canals – all of which are prevalent locally.

Wantage Life Savers train at Wantage Leisure Centre on a Sunday morning, 8-9am (in the pool) and on Mondays, 8-10pm (an hour theory/life support/CPR training prior to an hour in the pool).

As well as training for competitions, club members are RLSS qualified instructors who are able to teach and assess RLSS Life Saving qualification, NRASTC qualifications and Duke of Edinburgh modules. However, our primary aim is to provide our expertise in helping children and adults to gain confidence in, on or around water, to understand the risks and to know how to cope if you (or anyone else) gets in to difficulty in the water.

On a Monday evening we work toward lifesaving or life support qualifications. Summer Sunday will be run as drop-in sessions for the general public and prospective new club members to come and learn how to be Water Smart. Our nominal club rates are adults £5 / juniors £3 per session – which helps to cover the cost of hiring the pool. The first session is free for new/prospective members

For more information

email: [email protected]

Open water swimmer

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Lizzie Cox explains how she discovered the joy of outdoor swimming thanks to a trip to Berinsfield Lake…

The water calls to me, as she laps at the shore. Her soft trickling against the rocks and pebbles, that she has placed at her farthest edge, to give those who venture near, a foothold with a sharp- edged warning.

My feet are baby soft and too cosseted and vulnerable, as they crunch on the powdery sand nudging towards the sparkling waters edge.

The springtime sun is high in the sky but the wind is chilly and biting. I peep into the glittering mirrored shallows, excitedly scanning the lake bed, for nature holds secrets as ancient as the earth and as deep as the lakes reedy beds.

The birds and small creatures that amble on her banks and laze in pools of still sunlight on her dappled surface, feel familiar and safe and as I near the waters edge the sounds of the shore recede, the laughter of the playing children, the excitedly barking dogs and the bustling swimmers as they adjust their sports attire and stretch those toned torsos. The sounds fade into the distance as I stare mesmerised by the watery depths.

As I peer beneath the surface the minnows dart around in innocence and joy as I dip my toe into the ripples of the shore line and the warmth of my human frame meets the icy cold of the lake and our energy connects. I feel her age old body of water as it welcomes me into her vast pool, or at least she humours me as I wade in the shallows, but as I lift my gaze to the horizon where the tree line meets the water a chill enters my heart as I recall the reason for my visit to the lakeside this early  morning and the knowledge of how far into her depths I must swim to reach what I seek

I glance back at the swimmers now entering the water yards away, a babble of jolly women are wading knee deep into the wet, their swimsuits and swimming caps thin protection against the waters icy currents one of these women tucking her loose grey hair into her cap smiles at me and for a moment I want to ask her if she seeks what I seek and her deep belly laugh as she natters to her companion is a sign to me that this is a kindly soul – I open my mouth to call to her but too late I open my mouth to speak and she is already gone into the fresh cold waters of the lake and soon she is bobbing her head in the deeper water, front crawling her way to the first yellow bouy and I my first words of friendship are lost on the wind and carried away in the breeze across the treetops and beyond.

I do not wait for the other swimmers,but make my own solitary way into the icy waters as the reeds. Cling to my thighs I take a deep breath, and then I’m under, immediately a survival instinct kicks in, the waters cold and you must move to keep warm, and anyway one does not enter the water to simply paddle on a day like today one enter the waters to swim.

I can only use breast stroke or at least I feel it is fitting that I do and have never resolved to learn front crawl and so I make my way like an elegant legged toad or frog through the wake of the triathlon swimmers that power their way to fitness and beaming good health, I catch a slip stream from them and hitch a ride as it carries me further out, further to the far edge of the lake. As they stream past the swimmers disturb a cloud of mating dragonflies who flit like sparks of flurosecent blue around the surface of the water and then settle when the energy of them has passed onto the now settling waves.

As I glide through the water I sense I am getting further and further away from shore and I am solitary once more. I sense I need to cough and as I do so a little water entered my nostrils and I snort starting to panic, I was an asthmatic child and memories of cross country in Windsor great park and the lack of oxygen in my tight lungs and temper tantrums where I sobbed and gasped for breath as I bit down in anger on words I could not utter. As an adult I  suffer from panic attacks and over my41 years have been partial to the odd fag or two. As these memories came and went like passing shadows across the water I remembered my teenage years where as a young girl I dived through the pools of green jade in the south of France as lithe and as an egret and yet now here I am on a cold bright April morning in the Oxfordshire countryside in a cold lake and my 41 year old body creaking and groaning like a old rusty barge.

And yet something takes over the lake starts  to silence my struggling and her quiet teaches me more than the clammering noisy lessons of this world ever could.

My breathing becomes more regular as I tred  water I look down and see suddenly out the corner of my eye a silver flash I glance around at the other swimmers but I am not alone a kayaker floats past her eyes crinkled with a concerned smile but this annoys rather than soothes it is not the kindness of humans I seek but the cold hard wisdom of the lake and what hides in the water at her far edge.

What I have seen before and haunts my dreams and has called me back from my lap dogs and newspapers and coffee this morning to her shores then my attention falls again to the water that seems to pulse around me lapping at my hair as it escapes from my swimming hat and swirls in the water like tentacles. There it is again that swoosh and a clap And I see a silvery scaled f tail descend as a startled fish jumps out the water and lands again darting away further into the deep.

I let out a frustrated chuckle a fish ! Only a fish – but the realisation that I may have been deceived in my quest makes my heart heavy and as I turn wearily  from the far corner of the lake and start the long swim back to shore my shoulders begin to dip and I feel sleepy in the water as if falling into a deep trance my head starts to dip below the water line and for a second I slip under water my eyes are open and I see coming through the reed beds a woman or a fish I am not sure my vision is blurred the water has become suddenly murky and a cold current hits me in the torso but she or it is approaching fast and there is nowhere to go and suddenly she’s upon me her scales are indeed silvery and her webbed hands as she touches me face and whispers in my ear I can hear nothing but I know in my heart she is singing the sound of falling tears.

In that moment I think I tell my dreams my nightmares my fears and failures she looks straight on my eyes her hair swirling like seaweed and her face rosy and round not the face of a monster but a mirror image of my own I gasp and as water rushes into my mouth it startled me and I rise the the surface gasping in pure air as I break the waves I look above me and alone seagull flying high in the skies above cries out and again I am born of the lake.

I make my way towards the shore and do not look behind me as I climb the beach my legs like jelly my nose dripping just simply make my way back to my patient husband sitting waiting on the warm car to take me home.

Many drown in the wild of the water in the truth that is the secret of the lake

That you are what you seek and what you seek was in you all along.

That the wild calls you to discover this and the wild is indeed what you are.

Many take this knowledge to its watery grave many do not venture near again to the mystical depths of her sparkling waters.

But to hear the cry of the birds as they skim across her  surface and see the dragonflies dance

And hear the sound of the sirens and the nymphs as they sing their haunting song calling you to come and meet again the secret of the lake.

More info

To find out more about Queenford Lakes Open Water Swimming, OX10 7PQ, see their Facebook page below or contact 07974 369982

Dive into fundraising with Swimathon

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Make a splash with Swimathon this weekend and help raise vital funds for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie. 

Swimathon takes place from Friday, 29th March to Sunday, 31st March and with distances from 400m to 5k, there’s a challenge for everyone.  

If you haven’t swum for a while or just starting out on a fitness programme then 400m or 16 lengths of the pool is a good place to start; if you feel you’re up to a bit more then how about 1.5k (60 lengths) or go for the landmark 100 lengths, covering 2.5k? The ultimate Swimathon challenge is the 200 length 5k, the most popular distance, you’ll need to have put in some training but you will be rewarded with a 5k medal at the end. 

New to 2019 and the mother of all challenges is the Triple 5k – yes you guessed it, that’s three times 5k but fear not it’s not all in one go – you’ll swim 5k three times on three occasions, it’s not for the faint hearted and should only be attempted if you’ve got enough training under your cap. 

If you can’t take part in an organised Swimathon session, try a session at a time and place which works for you with MySwimathon. 

There are both individual and team challenges over the three days at participating pools – there are more than 600 across the UK registered so the chances are there’s one near you – but if you can’t make one of these sessions, then why not try MySwimathon. 

You can choose to swim any time up to Sunday, 7th April  at a location that suits you. Full details about this and how you can still raise funds for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie are on the website. 

Swimathon began in 1986 in London encouraging people to take up regular exercise and for swimmers to use their local pools. It has gone on to raise more than £48million over the years helping a variety of charities through the efforts and hard work of more than 700,000 swimmers.

To find out more and register to take part in either Swimathon or MySwimathon visit