Open water swimming group's safety warning for the River Ouse

York Press: Entertainer David Walliams, who famously swam the River Thames for charity Entertainer David Walliams, who famously swam the River Thames for charity

THREE sections of the River Ouse are featured on a website that promotes safe swimming in open water.

Wildswim, run by the Outdoor Swimming Society, encourages people to recommend places in rivers and lakes to swim, and features three points on the River Ouse.

Areas of Naburn Lock, Acaster Malbis and Fulford Ings are included as appropriate places to swim in the River Ouse, despite an ongoing river safety campaign by The Press and local city and county officials to prevent people risking their lives in the city's rivers.

Jackie Roberts, whose daughter Megan died in the Ouse following a night out , said she was aware of websites which promoted open water swimming, but felt the risks must be made clear.

She said: "I do know people who swim in rivers and stay safe, but it's important to be aware of the dangers - the cold, currents, and not swimming after drinking alcohol. Rivers are very dangerous. Even strong swimmers get into difficulties in rivers such as The Ouse."

One woman recommended Fulford Ings as being "deep enough for a swim", appropriate for skinny dipping, and advised people the river at that point was "shallow enough to slide in and stand up". The recommendation, made in July 2013, was followed by one warning, urging swimmers to "be careful of the boats moving along the river".

A spokeswoman for the OSS said they encourage people to enjoy outdoor swimming safely, by "informing and educating swimmers in how to make their own risk assessments".

She said: "Conditions change outdoors - often rapidly - according to weather and season, and the capabilities of individual swimmers vary widely. The OSS Wild Swim Map - wildswim.com - shares and promotes the consideration and discussion of this sort of information and encourages all swimmers to assess risks before they swim. Furthermore there are many local groups under the OSS umbrella who introduce new swimmers to local swimming holes and who share knowledge and experience directly. "

She added: "The vast majority of water-related deaths do not involve swimmers. The National Water Safety Fatal Incident Reports, on which ROSPA base their information, count 99 deaths in rivers in the UK in 2012 - just four of these were swimmers.

"So what caused the other deaths? Twelve people were walking or running, four were angling. Others were engaged in a range of water sports or were simply found in the water having fallen in. So it’s vital to investigate individual circumstances before assuming that all people who drown are swimmers."


OSS River Safety Tips

- Swim sober. Your judgement, co-ordination and ability to regulate body temperature is impaired under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

- Check the depth and what’s in the water before you get in.

- Always check there is a safe exit point that you know you can get to easily. By their nature rivers have currents which mean you often can’t get out where you got in.

- Do not jump into cold water when you’re not acclimatised to it. The little-known culprit for many deaths is cold shock which is a physiological response involving gasping and uncontrollable rapid breathing. This occurs in sudden exposure to water at around 12 degrees C and below. It leads rapidly to drowning. It’s not under conscious control so you can’t overcome it by will-power.

- Avoid any water that looks dirty or polluted.

Comments (4)

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4:22pm Mon 7 Jul 14

WildWomanSwims says...

I would like to add to this article that the Outdoor Swimming Society strongly supports the river safely campaign in York, where there is a very specific set of circumstances that make these rivers dangerous.

Firstly, although I don't personally know York, any area around rivers where there is night life and a large student population can result in alcohol-fuelled high jinks and tragedy. The Ouse, from photographs, appears to have built-up, vertical sides, and in bad weather rivers like this can be fast-flowing and cold. These factors make escape extremely difficult.

It's therefore essential, as Jackie Roberts says, that people are made aware of the dangers of opportunistically jumping (or falling) into these rivers, particularly when under the influence of alcohol, and even when they are otherwise strong swimmers. It's important that this information is balanced and informed, since 'Danger-No Swimming' signs are widely over-used in places where swimming is clearly not especially dangerous, and thus have little authority. I would especially like to thank Jackie for her measured response under such dreadful circumstances.

Visiting these rivers specifically to swim, at places and times when conditions are appropriate, and when properly kitted and informed, is in an altogether different category.
I would like to add to this article that the Outdoor Swimming Society strongly supports the river safely campaign in York, where there is a very specific set of circumstances that make these rivers dangerous. Firstly, although I don't personally know York, any area around rivers where there is night life and a large student population can result in alcohol-fuelled high jinks and tragedy. The Ouse, from photographs, appears to have built-up, vertical sides, and in bad weather rivers like this can be fast-flowing and cold. These factors make escape extremely difficult. It's therefore essential, as Jackie Roberts says, that people are made aware of the dangers of opportunistically jumping (or falling) into these rivers, particularly when under the influence of alcohol, and even when they are otherwise strong swimmers. It's important that this information is balanced and informed, since 'Danger-No Swimming' signs are widely over-used in places where swimming is clearly not especially dangerous, and thus have little authority. I would especially like to thank Jackie for her measured response under such dreadful circumstances. Visiting these rivers specifically to swim, at places and times when conditions are appropriate, and when properly kitted and informed, is in an altogether different category. WildWomanSwims
  • Score: 8

5:16pm Mon 7 Jul 14

BJBCBH says...

I agree with WildWomanSwims. I have complete sympathy for anyone who has lost a loved one in a river, lake or sea and have the utmost respect for water safety campaigns which are undertaken in an informed, balanced way. Accidents sadly happen, which is why education and information on assessing risks are so vital to minimise tragedies. The OSS works tirelessly to contribute to this in the field of water safety. Wild swimming is becoming a very big sport in the UK and has many inherent benefits to those who set out to do it responsibly, deliberately, SOBER and with due respect for nature. I swim in Yorkshire's rivers all the time and fully accept that I do so at my own risk. It's one of the best things I do in life! However there's a huge distinction between the target audience for the OSS wildswim map (ie people like me who are seeking deliberately to set out and swim responsibly in a given location) and the general public who are the more usual victims of accidental water deaths under whatever circumstances. As always, communication and education are key - not only around water safety risks but even more so around responsible drinking and general personal safety. The media have a huge part in this and responsible, balanced reporting of facts and statistics and avoidance of sensationalist headlines are key.
I agree with WildWomanSwims. I have complete sympathy for anyone who has lost a loved one in a river, lake or sea and have the utmost respect for water safety campaigns which are undertaken in an informed, balanced way. Accidents sadly happen, which is why education and information on assessing risks are so vital to minimise tragedies. The OSS works tirelessly to contribute to this in the field of water safety. Wild swimming is becoming a very big sport in the UK and has many inherent benefits to those who set out to do it responsibly, deliberately, SOBER and with due respect for nature. I swim in Yorkshire's rivers all the time and fully accept that I do so at my own risk. It's one of the best things I do in life! However there's a huge distinction between the target audience for the OSS wildswim map (ie people like me who are seeking deliberately to set out and swim responsibly in a given location) and the general public who are the more usual victims of accidental water deaths under whatever circumstances. As always, communication and education are key - not only around water safety risks but even more so around responsible drinking and general personal safety. The media have a huge part in this and responsible, balanced reporting of facts and statistics and avoidance of sensationalist headlines are key. BJBCBH
  • Score: 6

5:49pm Mon 7 Jul 14

swansswimmer says...

"Rivers are very dangerous. Even strong swimmers get into difficulties in rivers" Apart from this assumptive comment this article is, on the whole, a well balanced report. Full credit to the journalist for researching this piece before publication. The most important part of this article is do not mix alcohol with swimming - river, sea, lake or indeed pool.
"Rivers are very dangerous. Even strong swimmers get into difficulties in rivers" Apart from this assumptive comment this article is, on the whole, a well balanced report. Full credit to the journalist for researching this piece before publication. The most important part of this article is do not mix alcohol with swimming - river, sea, lake or indeed pool. swansswimmer
  • Score: 5

8:43pm Mon 7 Jul 14

DartmoorSwimmer says...

There is undoubtedly an important distinction to be made between those who research a place, take advice and then decide if it is suitable to swim and those who swim on impulse or succumb to peer pressure or find themselves in the water by accident. Even if someone follows all the advice and/or is familiar with a particular swimming place it is still important that they are prepared to assess the place when they arrive and if necessary are prepared to walk away if they feel the conditions are not right or that they are not capable.

For the family and friends the death of a loved one it is a tragedy. However, it should be remembered that more people drown in their baths each year than drown whilst swimming but one makes newspaper selling headlines the other does not and we are resigned to one but fear and demonize the other. Neither I imagine is more or less of a tragedy to those affected.

I fully support any initiative that educates people about the real dangers of swimming rather than simply tries to frighten people away with scare stories and rumour. People enjoy swimming and if there are less and less places where safe swimming is permitted and encouraged then more people will simply decide to take a chance without having previously accumulated the experience to adequately assess the situation or gained sufficient competence in the water. Without good advice and adequate experience a tragedy becomes more likely to happen.

The Outdoor Swimming Society web site provides a great deal of common sense guidance and safety information but it is perhaps a fair comment that with many people contributing there is no peer review of the swimming places shown and whilst someone may have swum at a place on a nice summer day and posted their thoughts that does not mean it is still safe to swim if the river is in flood or it is the middle of winter.

Most people would not drink and drive or take drugs and fly a plane so the same thinking should apply to any activity where there is a risk of injury or death if you are not fully in control of your physical being or mental faculties. Good education and information are surely the key to safe swimming.
There is undoubtedly an important distinction to be made between those who research a place, take advice and then decide if it is suitable to swim and those who swim on impulse or succumb to peer pressure or find themselves in the water by accident. Even if someone follows all the advice and/or is familiar with a particular swimming place it is still important that they are prepared to assess the place when they arrive and if necessary are prepared to walk away if they feel the conditions are not right or that they are not capable. For the family and friends the death of a loved one it is a tragedy. However, it should be remembered that more people drown in their baths each year than drown whilst swimming but one makes newspaper selling headlines the other does not and we are resigned to one but fear and demonize the other. Neither I imagine is more or less of a tragedy to those affected. I fully support any initiative that educates people about the real dangers of swimming rather than simply tries to frighten people away with scare stories and rumour. People enjoy swimming and if there are less and less places where safe swimming is permitted and encouraged then more people will simply decide to take a chance without having previously accumulated the experience to adequately assess the situation or gained sufficient competence in the water. Without good advice and adequate experience a tragedy becomes more likely to happen. The Outdoor Swimming Society web site provides a great deal of common sense guidance and safety information but it is perhaps a fair comment that with many people contributing there is no peer review of the swimming places shown and whilst someone may have swum at a place on a nice summer day and posted their thoughts that does not mean it is still safe to swim if the river is in flood or it is the middle of winter. Most people would not drink and drive or take drugs and fly a plane so the same thinking should apply to any activity where there is a risk of injury or death if you are not fully in control of your physical being or mental faculties. Good education and information are surely the key to safe swimming. DartmoorSwimmer
  • Score: 3
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