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Safer Waterways for London

Issued:  3 July 2006                                                                           

Enjoy waterways safely this summer

Now the school summer holidays are approaching London’s waterway authorities have once again joined forces to remind people of the dangers of swimming in canals, rivers, docks, waterworks or reservoirs.  Safer Waterways for London is a joint campaign by British Waterways, Thames Water, the Port of London Authority, the Environment Agency, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, the Metropolitan Police Marine Support Unit and the London Home & Water Safety Council to promote the safe enjoyment of the capital’s waterways.

Waterways may look inviting on a warm day but everyone should resist the temptation to enter them, especially when under the influence of alcohol.  The water will remain extremely cold even on a hot day and the resulting shock can swiftly weaken even the strongest swimmer in areas which are not supervised by lifeguards.  Plant growth and slippery, steep banks can make it difficult to get out again and there can also be hidden objects under the surface which pose a danger, as do currents created by passing boats and water movements.  In other places deep silt and mud can trap the unwary . 

The waterways are also home to naturally occurring organisms, not found in swimming pools, that can cause stomach upsets, and contact with stagnant water can pose health risks from waterborne diseases such as Weil’s Disease (leptospirosis).  Although rare, Weil’s Disease can be fatal if it remains undetected.  It is caused by rats’ urine entering the body through cuts and grazes.

Brian Coleman, President of the London Home & Water Safety Council, explains: “Millions of Londoner’s enjoy the city’s wonderful network of canals, rivers and docks every summer. During the hot summer months and especially during the school holidays, we want to make it absolutely clear it is not safe to go in the water.  There are many safe and fun waterside activities people can take part in without risking their lives.”

Hanna Ehlers, Safer Waterways for London training and development officer, says: “Our biggest concern in the summer is with people, particularly children and young adults, thinking it’s a good idea to swim in waterways to cool down.  We’ve been working hard over the last few years to get the safety message out to children and parents, stressing that people stay away from the edge, that children must be accompanied by an adult and swimming must be confined to recognised and supervised swimming areas such as swimming pools and beaches.”                                                                                          

London has a fantastic network of waterways including the River Thames, the Rivers Lee and Stort, the Grand Union and Regent’s canals and London’s Docklands.  They are a popular retreat during summer and, used safely, can provide enjoyment for everyone.  Remember to follow the water safety rule and be SAFE (Stay Away From the Edge) of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs.

Between them, British Waterways, Thames Water, the Environment Agency, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and the Port of London Authority manage London’s waterways and rivers.  They have come together to highlight the importance of being safe around the water, an issue of particular significance during the summer months.

Safer Waterways for London is a partnership aiming to promote safe practice on London’s waterways.  The partners involved are British Waterways London, Lea Rivers Trust, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, the Environment Agency and Thames Water.  Since it started Safer Waterways for London has delivered water safety training and activities to over 12,500 young people, worked with over 50 community groups and voluntary organisations and has contributed to 32 community safety initiatives.

For more information about water safety training email hanna.ehlers@leariverstrust.co.uk  and for more information about waterway events and places to visit www.waterscape.com.