how to keep your children safe

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An estimated 85 Britons drown each year on holiday, and 13 per cent of UK travellers have experienced a near miss in the water, with young children and men most likely to fall victim, according to a charity’s analysis of accident statistics. 

The most common water-related accidents on holiday involve toddlers getting into trouble in swimming pools, and older men encountering problems in the ocean, including on snorkelling trips and also in rip currents, according to analysis by the Safer Tourism Foundation (STF), a charity dedicated to the prevention of holiday accidents. 

“In general we have seen an uptake in villa holidays since Covid,” explains Katherine Atkinson, chief executive of the Safer Tourism Foundation. “In the case of UK travellers, these villas are usually rented by people who don’t have a pool at home, and who therefore may be less used to taking sensible safety precautions around villa pools.” 

Of course, at a villa, there is no lifeguard, and legal requirements for swimming pools vary from country to country, and may not stipulate that there must be a fence, making access easy for wandering toddlers. Atkinson notes that at least one young British child dies from accidental drowning at a villa abroad each year.

But accident data also highlights another vulnerable group: “We have seen quite a lot of drownings in the ocean in the last few years, where people, usually men in their 60s and 70s, have suffered cardiac arrests, perhaps because the currents are stronger than they were expecting, and that has triggered an underlying condition.” The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS) reports that around 85 people drowned on holidays abroad in 2021, but we do not have definitive figures.

How can you protect yourself this summer?

“We’ve seen quite a lot of incidents partly caused by people not being realistic about their capabilities (amongst other things, a mix of being in denial about ageing; social pressures; identity issues),” says Atkinson. This slipping too fully into a holiday mindset has, she says, caused some of the water-related incidents affecting older travellers.

“We are asking everyone who goes swimming on holiday this year to take a few simple steps that could save a life. More than 55 million holiday trips abroad are made by Britons each year, and while fewer than 100 people drown in a typical year, that is no consolation if it happens to your family.”

The holiday statistics are on top of domestic figures: 277 people lost their lives to drowning in the UK in 2021. And while we may talk of swimming as a life skill, and while learning to swim is on the national curriculum, recent statistics from Sport England show that almost one child in three (28 per cent) leaves primary school unable to swim, up from one in four (25 per cent) in 2022; childhood drownings have doubled in England over the past four years. 


Water safety tips 

Review the following advice for the key points to remember before you jump in this summer:

1. Talk to your whole family about water safety before you go

STF data shows that while 13 per cent of Britons have experienced a near miss in the water and a further 15 per cent have experienced a near miss around the water (slips, falls), only 5 per cent of those surveyed cited “safety around the swimming pool” among their worries when heading off on holiday. Note, too, that men are more likely to experience near misses both in and around the water (16 per cent and 17 per cent more likely, respectively) – water safety is not just for the kids. 

2. Prepare for new activities

Make sure you are following the same safety standards you would at home, and have a warm-up for new activities: go to the local pool once at home before you launch yourself into open water abroad, and be prepared for the sea to be rougher, colder, and to require more effort than you might remember. Don’t be afraid to ask local operators about safety precautions in everything from snorkelling to kayaking to water slides. 

3. Keep alert during arrivals and departures

Drowning and near-drowning accidents are most likely to occur on the first and last days of holidays, according to a report published by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

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