Making water safety a priority

We need a cultural shift in attitudes toward water safety

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott
The Irish Times - Letters to the Editor.

Sir, – I am writing to highlight the urgent need for increased prioritisation of water safety in Ireland, paralleling the significant attention we give to road safety. Every year, numerous lives are lost or permanently affected by preventable water-related accidents, particularly over the summer months.

Drowning tragedies leave an average of 10 families and communities in grief every month. It is a year-round killer, taking an average of 118 lives annually. Notably, of the 1,300 road and water deaths that occurred over five years, 45 per cent were drownings. Males accounted for 70 per cent and half were people aged 40 to 64.

Contrary to popular belief, less than a quarter were preceded by swimming (23per cent), although with the rise in sea swimming since Covid-19, it’s crucial that people address the dangers associated with swimming in nature. More than half of accidental drownings (57 per cent) were preceded by land-based activities such as walking and angling from shore. People often drown due to unexpected falls or when overestimating their ability and underestimating the risk. Alcohol can lead to risky behaviour and is a factor in one-third of drownings. A Water Safety Ireland survey revealed that half of respondents lack swimming skills, and many do not wear lifejackets during water-based activities.

This points to the need for people to have a water safety conversation with loved ones that emphasises the importance of learning swimming and lifesaving skills, of wearing personal flotation devices, and supervising children closely. It is a conversation that is all too often put on hold until hot weather tragedies start to happen – and they happen every year.


We need a cultural shift in attitudes toward water safety, similar to the changes seen with road safety. This involves instilling a sense of responsibility in oneself and those we love around education, awareness, and stricter compliance with regulations on lifejacket usage. By making water safety a family priority, we can prevent unnecessary tragedies and ensure safer enjoyment of our waterways.

The United Nations has declared July 25th as World Drowning Prevention Day and June 17th is the start of Ireland’s National Water Safety Awareness Week. Now is the time to have that water safety conversation with loved ones – and oneself. – Yours, etc,


Deputy CEO,

Water Safety Ireland,