Water Safety In Winter

The Christmas season is a time when thousands of people around the country will find themselves in, near or around water for a variety of reasons. Many will take to our waters in support of sponsored swims for charitable causes. Winter brings unique water safety risks and it is important to know how you can reduce them. Get all the information you need for the months ahead.

Water Safety During Cold Weather

Cold winter waters can cause “cold shock” and hypothermia which can set in within a short period of time. This is especially so if there is a high wind chill factor which can overwhelm even the fittest of swimmers.

How to prepare for a winter swim:

  • Immediately before the swim, people should throw cold water on themselves and always ease into the water slowly introducing your body to the low temperature.
  • Check local weather forecasts and tides to avoid drowning risks such as rip currents or hypothermia.
  • Heed the advice of other seasoned swimmers. If they advise against swimming due to theconditions, then do not enter the water.
  • Stay in your depth – know your limits including how long to stay in the water and swim parallel to the shore.
  • If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing.
  • Post-swim it is important to warm up as quickly as possible Be prepared with a dry towel, warm layers and a hot drink following your swim.

If you see a person in difficulty, do not attempt a rescue for which you are not trained. Make use of nearby public rescue equipment such as a ringbuoy.

Ice and Coastal Walking

  • The banks of a pond may be weak and could give way under your weight.
  • Do not play near the edge of a riverbank as it might crumble away suddenly.
  • Stay off the ice at all times and never walk on a frozen waterway. The thickness of ice can vary and there is a risk it will break suddenly without warning.
  • Children require constant uninterrupted adult supervision as they may be tempted to venture onto ice. Keep children away from the water’s edge.#
  • Always let someone know where you are leaving from and going to, as well as what time you expect to return.
  • If you see someone has fallen through the ice, the safest way to perform a rescue is from the shore. Use your mobile phone to call 112 and ask for emergency services.

Know The Dangers Of Ice

Areas with frozen lakes, ponds, canals, and reservoirs can be beautiful places to visit during the winter months but all too often many people risk their lives by venturing onto frozen water. Playing on the frozen edges of a pond, lake or canal is perilous as ice can be quite thick in one area yet it can be much thinner close to that same area.

  • Walking on ice is extremely risky and unpredictable. If you do fall through, the freezing water temperatures can very quickly bring on cold water shock.
  • Teach children not to go onto the ice under any circumstances.
  •  Don’t go onto ice or into the water to rescue a dog, move to somewhere that the dog will be able to climb out and call them towards you.
  • Keep dogs on their leads when near ice and don’t throw sticks or toys onto the ice.
  •  Many factors affect ice thickness including: type of water, location, the time of year, shade from the sun and other environmental factors such as:
  •  Water depth and size of body of water.
  •  Currents, tides, and other moving water.
  •  Chemicals including salt.
  •  Fluctuations in water levels.
  • Logs, rocks, and docks absorbing heat from the sun.
  • Changing air temperature.
  •  Shock waves from vehicles traveling on the ice.

Ice Colour: The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength. Clear blue ice is strongest. White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice. Grey ice is unsafe.

Ice Rescue

What to do if you see someone fall through the ice.

Shout for assistance and phone the emergency services – call 999 or 112. The safest way to perform a rescue is from the shore ,do not walk or climb onto the ice to attempt a rescue.

  • Check if you can reach the person using a ringbuoy and rope, long pole, items of clothing or a branch of a tree from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person. Instruct the casualty to keep still to maintain their heat and energy.
  • All casualties should be taken to hospital even if they appear to be unaffected by their ordeal as they will be suffering from hypothermia.
  •  If you get into trouble on ice and you are by yourself. Call for help. Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area. Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach. Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to push your torso on to the ice. When you are back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. Do not stand up! Look for shore and make sure you are going in the right direction.

Flood Risks and How To Stay Safe

Water Safety Ireland has warned about the increased risk to the public in flood conditions which can be compounded by high winds, heavy rain and a new or full moon (bringing large tides); deep areas of low pressure tracking over the Atlantic further increase the level of floods especially in our estuaries exposed to onshore winds. Further periods of heavy rain increase flooding levels and it is then that you need to know how to stay safe.