It has been almost a year since the untimely deaths of three children in Loch Lomond in July 2021. These were tragic incidents which the families will never recover from, and my thoughts and sympathies remain with the families and friends of the children. It is vital that all the stakeholders tasked with improvements on water safety come together and make the agreed action plans work before the start of the summer holidays to avoid any further incidents on our lochs.
As a West Scotland MSP, I have some of the finest Lochs and reservoirs in my region, including Loch Lomond. Water safety is something we all need to take seriously and working closely with a range of partners including Police Scotland will help ensure that everyone can enjoy water activities safely. I understand that a recent event took place where 300 school children learned how to stay safe in and around water, how to enjoy the outdoors safely, and what to do in the event of an emergency. All the fatalities last summer involved young schoolchildren, so this is an excellent initiative.
It is great to hear that Park Rangers routinely patrol Loch Lomond where possible during peak periods. These patrols are increased and targeted towards the busiest areas. Loch Lomond covers a large area and mobile patrols are the most effective use of manpower. Loch Lomond also has a fantastic volunteer operated rescue boat, and National Park Rangers are also able to assist in an emergency. Emergency life rings are also installed all over the park area.
One of the biggest issues unknown to the public is that there are many areas where the water depth changes suddenly and unexpectedly. In hot weather the loch is still very cold, and shock can set in quickly. My advice to anyone swimming or taking part in any water-based activity is to be aware of their own capabilities and make sure they are well prepared before getting into the water.
People can get into difficulty even in shallow water. Never go into the water alone and always keep a close eye on friends and family, particularly young children. Sometimes there can be steep drops even very close to shore, if you can’t swim or are not an experienced swimmer you shouldn’t venture far from the shore. Cold Water Shock can be life threatening even for experienced swimmers, and can rapidly lead to hypothermia. Enter the water slowly so you have time to get used to it.
Avoid blue/green algae during the summer months, and stay sober – alcohol and water don’t mix well. Alcohol and drugs can have an impact on your swimming ability, body temperature and judgement. Avoid jumping or diving straight into the water, because as well as the shock of the cold water there is a risk of unseen hazards under the water. If you do get into trouble in the water, then float on your back and try not to panic. Follow the RNLI’s ‘Float to Live’ advice.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park have launched a National Water Safety Action Plan. The new plan is supported by both local and national water safety groups including Crown Estate Scotland, Police Scotland, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, HM Coastguard, RNLI and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
The plan will see 35 actions to improve water safety across Scotland. Some of the actions include upgraded public rescue equipment; new 999 signage with grid ref and location info; new hazard warning signs where necessary; Visitor Risk Assessments carried out at sites; a programme of events this summer at hotspot areas to raise awareness of water safety risks, and engagement with school pupils in and around the National Park.
If you are planning to swim in Loch Lomond, National Park Rangers can answer any questions you may have – you can contact the Duncan Mills Memorial Slipway in Balloch on 01389 722030 or for Reservoirs call Scottish Water on 0800 0778 778. But in an emergency, always call 999 and ask for Police and the rescue boat and provide the exact location of the emergency.
Through the efforts of multiple organisations, but mostly through the efforts of every individual who swims in fresh water following the proper advice, we can ensure we do not see a repeat of the tragic events we saw last summer.