Residents urged to resist the siren call of the region’s reservoirs this summer

13 Jul 2022

Swimmers across the North West of England are urged to resist the siren call of reservoirs this summer – or risk the sound of emergency sirens too.

While they look enticing during the warmer months, reservoirs are extremely dangerous, with swimmers risking their lives every time they enter the water. In fact, around 400 people drown in the UK and Ireland every year.

United Utilities, which is responsible for 150 reservoirs across the North West, is urging residents to resist the temptation for a dip this summer and enjoy the reservoirs from the safety of dry land.

Alaister Downie, Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at United Utilities, said: “Not only is swimming in reservoirs strictly prohibited, but it’s also extremely dangerous. We continue to hear of the needless deaths of people accidently drowning in open water.

“The water may look refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but it is deceptively cold. Even in the summer the water will rarely get above 11°C – colder than the water that comes out of your cold tap. Even strong swimmers will struggle to keep their heads above water, your body can go into shock, your heart will be working over-time to pump blood to your internal organs, and you’ll lose control of your muscles.”

Machinery installed by United Utilities at the bottom of the reservoir to pump water adds other danger to swimmers by creating a strong current, while the steep sides and sudden drops can be hazardous for anyone trying to get out.

According to the Royal Life Saving Society UK, accidental drowning kills around 400 people in the UK and Ireland each year, with about 44% happening between May and August.

Area Manager and Head of Prevention at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, Billy Fenwick, said: “Unfortunately we see tragic incidents of accidental drownings when the weather is warmer, as people attempt to cool off in open water.

“We are urging people to never be tempted to jump into any open water or swim in open water where it is not an organised event – it may be warm outside, but the water is not. Cold Water Shock can kill even strong swimmers and there is also the risk of dangers lurking beneath the surface which may cause drowning.”

Area Manager, Mark Winder of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “There are many hidden dangers of swimming in open water. The shock of cold water can get even strong swimmers into difficulty, it doesn’t matter how fit and healthy you are, the water is always stronger. The water can be deep, submerged objects may not be visible and it’s difficult to estimate the depth before you get in. Whilst swimmers may be able to enter the water, there are not always suitable places to climb out.”

Group Manager Angela Opie, Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s Prevention Lead, said: "In Cumbria, we carried out more than 200 water rescues between 2015 and 2020, which sadly included 8 fatalities. By highlighting this issue and making sure simple safety messages reach our communities, we hope to reduce the number of these preventable deaths. Temperatures in Cumbria have started to rise slightly, but that does not mean all of our nearby waters are safe to be entered."

Alaister Downie added: “This is a hugely important message that needs to be spread far and wide. The North West is lucky to have so many beauty spots, but the dangers of swimming in cold water are significant and there should be no excuses.

“Go and walk your dog, enjoy a picnic or a ramble – just don’t go in the water!”

As we prepare to enjoy our first restriction-free summer since the start of pandemic, United Utilities has launched a reservoir safety educational pack for teachers and parents, designed to help them learn about the dangerous of reservoir swimming in an interactive and engaging way.

To download the pack and find out more go to: