School swimming and classroom lessons should teach children about the dangers of cold water shock after a sharp rise in the number of drownings, council leaders have urged.
Even strong swimmers can struggle and drown after jumping into cold and unpredictable seas, rivers, canals and lakes, where temperatures can be half that of the typical 30C swimming pool, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned.
It is calling for swimming lessons in schools and leisure centres to teach children about cold water shock - a leading cause of death in many drownings - which can increase a person’s breathing tenfold, leading to a feeling of panic and possible cardiac arrest.
The development comes a matter of days after a 12-year-old died in the River Trent, having gone into the water to help two girls in difficulty.
Owen Jenkins ventured into the currents at Beeston Weir, near Nottingham, on Monday evening, where his body was later recovered.
If schools do not arrange swimming lessons for their pupils, they should receive the safety advice as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons, the LGA said.
It is also urging the Government to make “near-miss” statistics from fire and rescue service data available for inclusion in the Water Incident Database (WAID) to improve its effectiveness to help identify the scale of the risk.
Latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) show that 300 people died in accidental drownings in the UK last year.
The number of people aged 19 and under who drowned in the UK has risen by 25% from 32 in 2015 to 40 in 2016, while drownings in canals and lakes rose by 24%, from 45 to 56, over the same period.
Simon Blackburn, chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Children and adults need to understand that being able to swim 50 metres in a calm, warm swimming pool does not mean they will survive if they fall in a cold canal or a fast flowing river while out jogging or taking their dog for a walk.
“The effects of cold water shock should never be underestimated because they are a leading cause of drownings in the UK as they limit everyone’s ability to swim and rescue themselves.
“We need to ensure that every child learns to swim and that while doing so they also learn about cold water shock which will help them to understand the risks to improve water safety across the country.”