Open Water Safety Policy

Wigan Council want all members of our community to enjoy parks and open spaces. This includes sites close to open water bodies such as canals, rivers, ponds, lakes and ‘flashes’.

However, there are risks and hazards associated with open water bodies, these include:

  • Extremely cold dark waters (common in canals and reservoirs), even during hot summer days. This can have a disabling effect even on strong swimmers, leading to drownings and risking the lives of other people who may feel compelled to attempt a rescue
  • Deep waters - open water is often murky so it's hard to see how deep the water is
  • Hard underwater objects (rocks) or sharp edges (scrap metal, shopping trolleys, bicycles)
  • Vegetation which may trap a swimmer
  • Toxic or harmful substances may be present.

How we’re improving open water safety

To help improve safety, we will assess risks in the borough’s water bodies on a prioritised basis and introduce measures depending on the level of risk.

How we’re doing this is detailed in the following Open Water Safety policy and guidance documents:

Open water safety frequently asked questions

I can swim, why shouldn’t I get in the water?

Even the strongest swimmers may face difficulties in the water. The water will be cold, even in the summer, which will take your breath away and leave you gasping for air. The shock of the cold water will also mean that your blood will rush away from your muscles to protect your vital organs, leaving your muscle and limbs without energy to keep you afloat.

There may be unseen objects which could cause you injury. Open water is often murky, so you won’t be able to tell the depth. It could be much deeper than you expect or much shallower than you expect, making it very dangerous if you jump in.

I get in the swimming pool and I’m fine with it, what’s different about open water swimming?

In a swimming pool, there are no obstacles in the water and lifeguards are on hand all the time. Typical swimming pool temperatures are 25-28 degrees centigrade and you can easily get out using the access ladders.

Open water e.g. the sea, canals, rivers, reservoirs, docks, flashes (or lakes), is very different. The average outdoor water temperature in the UK is 11 degrees centigrade. There are no lifeguards on Council owned open water sites to rescue you if you get into difficulties. There are no ladders to get out. If you fall in the water, it is likely you will be wearing clothes, which will become heavy when wet making it much harder to stay afloat or lift yourself out of the water.

In 2014, 186 people drowned in inland waters and 102 in coastal waters. You won’t be able to see any obstacles in the water which may cause you injury.

My friends all swim in the water and it’s really fun - I don’t want to miss out. Why shouldn’t I get in the water?

Even if your friends think it’s a good idea to get in the water, please don’t do the same. There are too many unseen dangers and it’s just too risky. Find other ways to cool down and have fun - find your nearest swimming pool, eat an ice cream, go to the park, go to the cinema. Don’t get in the water.

Why don’t you put life rings by the water?

Due to the extent of the open water sites in our care, it is just not possible to provide Personal Rescue Equipment (PRE) e.g. life rings and/or throw lines on open water sites. A risk assessment will determine if they are provided. Sadly, equipment such as life rings is often vandalised or stolen.

What do I do if my dog gets into the water?

If your dog gets into the water, don’t jump in after it. Although it will be distressing to see your pet in the water if he/she starts to have difficulties, do not put yourself in danger to rescue them. Encourage your dog to swim over to you. If they are unable to do this, try to reach him/her with a long branch.

Please try to keep your dog on a short lead when walking near open water or towpaths so they don’t run off and risk jumping into the water. This will also help other visitors who might be scared of dogs or risk being tripped up if unsteady on their feet.

If you want people to stop getting in the water, why don’t you fence off the water?

The council cares for many miles of open water in the borough. Not only is it not feasible to fence off the whole distance, but there are also many other things to consider.

  • Thousands of anglers who need clear and direct access to the water
  • The council needs direct access to the water and other water structures to care for the sites and for people to access the water for supervised activities
  • In addition, wildlife is thriving on our open water and we work hard to create healthy and sustainable habitats for many species and fencing could potentially harm animals moving from the hedgerows to the water, as well as damaging important water habitats.

What do I do if I see someone struggling in the water?

Do not get into the water, as you may get into difficulties as well. Call the emergency services as soon as you can. Keep an eye on the person, keep talking to them, and stay near them.

© Wigan Council