Principles for Water Safety - HTML Version


Image showing water safety team

No activity can be made completely risk-free.

Image of a Lake

Risks imposed on non-participants and over which they have little or no awareness or control, can only be accepted if they are very low.

The principle of the voluntary acceptance of risk - no nasty surprises

Image of some Swimmers

All the benefits of water-related activities will be taken into account when making the balanced judgement of whether risks are acceptable or further risk control measures are necessary.

These benefits will include amongst others health and fitness, access to the countryside and coast, social inclusion, economic development, disability access and sporting objectives

Image of a Dry Dock

As above, all the disbenefits and costs of water-related activity will similarly be taken into account.

These include provision of rescue services, access restrictions, transfer to riskier activities (e.g. swimming in docks when pools close)

Image of Water Safety Signage

As far as possible, avoid restricting access to water spaces or facilities.

Image of a Riverbed

Look ahead by assessing the risks that can be foreseen.

Image of a Rowing Race Group

Learn from the past.

Records of accidents, near misses and ill-health, together with reports from the participants inform present day decision-making

Image of a Swimming Pool

As far as possible, avoid additional regulatory controls.

These should only be considered where accident rates are high, multiple casualties occur, children or elderly or disabled persons are involved, the risk is unclear to participants or affects non-participants (i.e. an involuntary risk).


Image of a Windsurfer

It is important to strike a balance between the self-reliance of the individual participant and management interventions.

The greater the competence and risk-awareness of the participant, the greater the scope for the managing organisations not to intervene. Many benefits of water-based activities can be realised by encouraging self-reliance, not dependency on a managing organisation.

Image of a Catamaran

Everyone involved in a water-related activity has some responsibility for ensuring their own safety.

Includes participants complying with best practice as set down by sports governing bodies, and ensuring they are not impaired by drink or drugs.

Image of a Lifeboat

Recognise that statutory bodies and organisations with management responsibilities may have only limited powers to require or enforce.

Hotel Swimming Pool

Avoid as far as possible the use of risk controls which, discourage people from participating in the organisation or management of an activity.

Many activities rely on the active support of non-participants, often given voluntarily. Excessive or insensitively applied risk controls can discourage this support and even threaten the continuance of the activity.

Image of a Lake in a Park

Recognise that children's risk perception skills will not be fully developed.

This must be taken into account in the design of facilities and activities, and by parents/guardians in the supervision of children.


Image of Waterports in an Inflatable Rubber Ring

Recognise that people taking part in similar activities will accept different levels of risk.

Take this into account when planning facilities or activities. Higher levels of participant competence may offset the need for other types of risk control.

Image of Underwater Weeds

Recognise that risk control measures for one participant group may create risks to others.

For example, fences erected to prevent people falling into water may impede rescues of people from the water.

Image of a Harbour

Work with groups representative of participants to promote understanding and resolve conflict.

Image of a Canal Drain

Collect incident data in partnership with others wherever possible.

This will increase greatly the value of the collected data.


Image of aN inflatabel Rubber Ring

Ensuring that participants are aware of and understand potential hazards and risks is the key element in ensuring that risks are undertaken voluntarily.

There are no nasty surprises awaiting participants.

Image of a Waterfall

Information and education of participants about the nature and extent of hazards, the risk control measures in place, and the precautions, which the participants should take, are crucial elements of risk control.

Image of a Fountain

Wherever possible, integrate safety information with other information provided to the public.

These could include leaflets, interpretation boards and websites.


Image of a Fisherman

Recognise that some participants over-estimate their skills and abilities to a large degree.

For example young men and swimming.

Image of a Coastline

Recognise that participants will have a range of abilities to recognise any given hazard. Some will over-estimate while others will under-estimate and sometimes fail to recognise a hazard exists.

Image of Beached Boats

Where competence levels are judged to be inadequate the NWSF will encourage training to improve competence.


Image of a Parasurfer

Managing organisations, sports governing bodies and user representative groups need to effectively communicate the results of risk assessments and risk awareness material to the participants.

Image of a Lake

When communicating to actual or potential participants, take account of the language, literacy and cultural needs of the target audience.


Principles for Water Safety

Principles for Water Safety (PDF Document 9mb)

Click for full version and rationale behind the NWSF's Principles for Water Safety.