Warning issued over icy canal and river towpaths

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Winter on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

With forecasts of snow and ice today and seasonal festivities beginning for many, the UK’s largest waterways charity, Canal & River Trust, is reminding people on ways to keep safe along its 2,000-mile network of canals and rivers this winter.

The Trust has warned of the risk of slipping, tripping or falling into the cold water can increase during winter – and have warned of the dangers of both the River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Anne Gardner-Aston, director of health and safety at the Canal & River Trust, said towpaths are wet and icy, snowfall can conceal objects like boat mooring rings and ropes which can be tripped over, people are easily distracted while using their mobile phones, or are tipsy from festive celebrations.

“Canals and rivers look beautiful in the frost and snow and it’s no wonder people want to head to the towpath for a mood-boosting wintery walk or to grab that perfect festive shot for socials,” she said. “But with cold temperatures, and shorter daylight hours, it’s so important to remind ourselves to take care when walking, running or cycling by water.

“When it’s very cold it’s all too easy to slip on ice or wet ground and fall in.  Even if you’re a regular towpath visitor and know the area well, with one wrong step you could end up in freezing cold water. So, our message is to take care near the edge of the water, especially festive drinkers celebrating in waterside bars and pubs, go with someone or tell someone where you are going.

“While frozen canals look beautiful no-one should ever attempt to walk on or test the thickness of the ice.  Dog walkers are advised to keep dogs on leads during a freeze in case they run onto ice, and to never follow their pet on to a frozen canal.”

Top safety tips if you fall into the water this winter:

  • The shock of falling into cold water will cause you to gasp.  Float on your back while you get your breathing under control. Use your hands to help you if you need to and it’s ok if your legs sink a bit. Then call for help.
  • If you can’t stand up, continue to float on your back until help arrives.

Top safety tips if you find someone in the water this winter:

  • Stay on the towpath – DO NOT enter the water to help them.
  • Call the emergency services straight away.
  • Tell the person to float on their back.  It will help them control their breathing while the cold shock passes.
  • Once their breathing has calmed, and if they can, shout to them to swim to you.
  • Lie with your whole body on the towpath, try to reach them with a scarf or a long stick.
  • If they can’t swim to you, tell them to keep floating and try to find something to help them stay afloat, like a football or empty bottle.

For more information on how floating can save your life when you are in difficulty in the water, visit the RNLI’s #FloatToLive campaign.

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