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Scots warned of drowning risks in open water after 47 deaths last year

Revellers aiming to cool off this summer are being urged to be mindful of drowning risks (PA)
Revellers aiming to cool off this summer are being urged to be mindful of drowning risks (PA)

Scots have been urged to take extra care around open water over the summer as statistics showed drowning deaths are more than double the UK average.

There were 47 accidental drownings in Scotland last year and 236 across the UK as a whole, according to figures from the National Water Safety Forum.

That equated to a drowning rate of 8.63 per million people – more than double the UK average of 3.49 per million, the statistics show.

In the past five years, 226 people have died in accidental drownings in Scotland, including from cold water shock, and west central Scotland is regionally the most dangerous area for water deaths.

Scottish Water has warned that reservoirs have been a magnet for risky or anti-social behaviour in warm weather, and it has now urged people against using them as a place to swim due to the deep, cold water and lack of phone signal in remote locations.

In July 2018, 14-year-old Ben Thomson drowned in Glenburn Reservoir in Paisley, Renfrewshire, while in July 2021, six people died within 24 hours while swimming in Scottish waters.

Scottish Water said rangers are now patrolling some of its reservoirs after young people began causing problems in recent years at Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, Picketlaw in Eaglesham, East Renfrewshire, and Gladhouse in Midlothian – including diving from working water towers.

Infrastructure including dams, steep banks, overflows and underwater pipework all pose risks, while dog walkers are urged not to attempt a rescue if their pet is in the water as the animal may have a better chance of survival than a human.

Peter Farrer, Scottish Water’s chief operating officer, said: “While people should enjoy any good weather we have this summer and take pleasure around the country’s beautiful lochs, reservoirs, rivers and beaches, it’s absolutely vital they stay safe at all times and behave responsibly.

“As a number of tragic deaths in Scotland in recent years have shown, safety is a serious issue in all bodies of water. At reservoirs, while the water may look harmless, there are many hidden dangers.

A woman dives into Loch Lomond in warm weather watched by others
People cooling off in open water during warm weather are being urged to do so carefully (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“We need to ensure everyone is aware of these hazards. We are reminding parents to keep their children safe and asking adults to act responsibly around reservoirs and other watercourses.”

Matt Croxall, head of charity at the Royal Life Saving Society UK, said: “In the last five years, west central Scotland has been named as the area with the most accidental drownings of 36, which is over three times higher than the Scottish average.

“With the summer holidays coming and families enjoying staycations across popular destinations in Scotland, it is even more vital that everyone has a strong understanding of what to do if you find yourself or someone else in trouble in the water.

“Bringing water safety to the forefront of everyone’s mind, Drowning Prevention Week equips people with the appropriate skills and knowledge to be summer ready when it comes to being safe in and around water during the summer months and beyond.”

Carlene McAvoy, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “On warm days, it can be tempting to enter the water to cool down but open water in Scotland tends to be much colder than anticipated.

“It can lead to cold water shock – an involuntary response to the body being suddenly immersed. It can affect your ability to move, swim and breathe.

“We recommend learning more about cold water shock and water safety in general by learning the Water Safety Code and knowing what to do in emergency. All this information is freely available on the Water Safety Scotland website.”