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Scotland has an official strategy to reduce deaths in water…and it’s failing to do so.

That’s the message from the latest figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID) which indicate that in Scotland there was an increase in water-related fatalities in 2021.

Now, free education resources have  been released by Water Safety Scotland and Education Scotland prior to the summer break to assist teachers and practitioners by providing key lifesaving information to students in schools.

The database, which is maintained by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) and focuses on gathering information related to water-based incidents, also revealed a marked rise in accidental drownings last year, too. 

The figures from 2021 show that there were 58 accidental water-related fatalities in Scotland, and form part of the total water-related fatalities in the country which stands at 105 for last year.  These losses include accidental: 58; crime suspected: 1; not recorded: 25; suicide suspected: 21.

Carlene McAvoy, Water Safety Scotland’s Data Subgroup Chair, said: “Unfortunately we have seen an increase in water-related fatalities from the average number usually seen in Scotland. 

"The recent figures for accidental water-related fatalities show a 16 per cent increase in comparison to the SDPS baseline – bringing accidental water-related fatalities to their highest point for the last five years.”

Water Safety Scotland and its partners have responded to the tragedies that occurred in 2021 by releasing an Interim Review of Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy which monitors the changes that have occurred from the original release of Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy (SDPS) in 2018

The Minister for Community Safety, Ash Regan, has also released a Water Safety Action Plan, which acts to complement the strategy.

In a bid to counteract the rise in water-based incidents, and ahead of the summer, Water Safety Scotland is urging people to be safe and follow their three-part Water Safety Code:

  • Stop and Think, Spot the Dangers
  • Stay Together, Stay Close
  • In an Emergency, Call 999

Michael Avril, Chair of Water Safety Scotland, said: “Drowning is preventable and together we can help prevent future water-related fatalities and ensure that people have a safe and positive experience around our waterways”.

These figures are part of a UK trend - there were 277 deaths in the UK from accidental drownings in 2021 across inland and coastal locations. This is an increase of 23 from the previous year. But total water-related fatalities in the UK actually fell – for 2021 the total number of deaths in water was 616, a decrease of 15 from the previous year. 

  • Inland open waters, such as rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs, and quarries continue to be the leading locations with 62 per cent of deaths.
  • Males continue to over represent with 83 per cent of deaths.
  • 40 per cent of people had no intention to enter the water, such as those walking, with causes including slips, trips and falls, being cut off by the tide, or being swept in by waves

Following this concerning increase in accidental water-related deaths last year, the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) is reminding people of the following lifesaving advice to help people enjoy our waterways and coastlines, particularly as warmer weather arrives, but water temperatures remain dangerously cold. 

If you get into trouble in the water, Float to Live.

Lean back and use your arms and legs to help you float, then get control of your breathing before calling for help or swimming to safety.

If you see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112. If you are at the coast ask for the coastguard, if you are inland, ask for the fire service.

Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy targets a reduction of 50 per cent in the number of accidental drowning deaths, against a three-year average baseline of 96(from 2013-2015). The strategy can be viewed at

The Interim Review of the strategy was led by RoSPA and can be accessed here: