Be cautious! Plea to anyone in open waters in the Highlands and Islands
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Experienced open-water swimmers and life-saving experts are urging caution after several deaths in Scottish waters one week ago.
The message is clear that as open water swimming becomes more popular, and people take to the sea, lochs and rivers for exercise or to cool down during the summer, safety should be the top priority.
Last week’s six deaths in Scotland’s waterways included four children. On average there are 97 water-related fatalities north of the border each year.
Last July, a Polish man who lived in Inverness was lost in the water at Loch Ness, after falling from a private boat, with police saying yesterday that he is “still outstanding”.
Offering condolences to the families of those who died, a spokeswoman for the RNLI said: “Our volunteers are all ordinary members of the public with their own families and these incidents are the worst kind of tragedies imaginable.
“Even in the recent warm weather the water around our rivers, coasts, and in canals and lochs, can be dangerously cold with strong currents.
“We understand the desire to get into the water whether you’re open-water swimming or having fun with a kayak or paddleboard, so however you plan to enter the water, we recommend a few things to do it safely: have a plan for your activity including checking tide times, and knowing local conditions like rip tides and under currents. It is really vital to either wear a lifejacket or have a buoyancy aid, and to have a means for calling for help.
“We are urging people to be familiar with our Float to Live message where you take a minute – the initial effects of cold water shock pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away; try to relax – lean back, extend your arms and legs and float until you’ve got your breathing under control; call for help or swim to safety when you can.
“If you see someone in trouble at the coast, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.”
Open-water swimmer Leanne Okane, a member of the Nairn Selkies group, said people should avoid jumping into open water.
“The biggest risk is cold water shock,” she said. “We need to make sure our children are safe – no jumping from piers, the water is shockingly cold.”
She advised that for at least the first year of open-water swimming, at least one friend should be on the shore to keep an eye on things.
“I have been swimming for five years and I am very safety conscious, the deaths over the last weekend are a reminder that water can be deadly,” she added.
“My best advice is if in doubt stay out of the water. If you are going in – be prepared, take a float, and in it keep a mobile phone and a whistle, and know the numbers to call if you see someone in difficulty: 999 and ask for the coastguard.”
Courier columnist Nicky Marr is an advocate of open-water swimming but she never goes in the water alone and always has a float.
“I’m so aware of the numbers of people who have taken up swimming since lockdown, especially the explosion of swimming posts on social media, and how that might lull people into a sense that it’s safer than it actually is,” she said.
Earlier this month regional MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, warned that while the activity has a great many health benefits, people should be mindful of the risks of wild swimming and recommend visiting the Outdoors Swimming Society website for tips for safe summer swimming.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service deputy assistant chief officer Alasdair Perry said: “Scotland’s many waterways have hidden dangers such as fast moving currents or obstacles which can also present a risk.
“Never leave children or young people unattended and do not mix alcohol with swimming.”