Below is a section from the original publication on Leaving Home To Exercise (guidance) by The Welsh Government:
"...there is an expectation that the reasonable excuse to exercise does not include activities that involve a significant degree of risk (for example swimming or other exercise at sea, or in lakes, rivers or other waterways). Exercise, therefore, should be done locally and generally be limited to walking, running and cycling."
Some drowning statistics across the whole of the UK from the National Water Safety Forum:
Giving fatality totals for this 5 year period of:
There are several other "groupings" of people who drown such as angling, commercial, powerboating etc. but the largest grouping is consistently walkers/runners. Without the total numbers partaking in any activity it's hard to fully assess risk.
In 2018, 99 cyclists were killed, 4106 seriously injured and 13345 slightly injured in Great Britain (from ROSPA). That's one heck of a pressure on the NHS. I tried to find stats on serious injuries to swimmers. Nothing. It makes sense, in swimming you are generally travelling less than 3mph.
The cycling website road.cc reports "Cyclist deaths double during lockdown at twice the average for the time of year".
Returning to the Welsh Government's guidelines* "exercise should not include activities that involve a significant degree of risk". Which is more risky cycling or swimming? Which activity will put the most pressure on the NHS? The evidence points to cycling. Indeed running, walking, DIY could also be up there. Some would argue that smokers and the obese lead the way in putting pressure on the NHS.
I know of three members of my extended family who attended A & E during the "lockdown" period. All of these injuries happened at home or in the garden. This isn't surprising, when I think of the all the times I or members of my family have had to go to A & E the accidents overwhelmingly occur at home. Never after going swimming.
*Worth noting, whilst I was finishing this article the Welsh Government removed mention of swimming in their advice (13th May 2020).
WHAT IS IT WITH SWIMMING?
The understandable decision was made by RNLI not to roll out Beach Lifeguards, which in turn potentially puts more pressure on HM Coastguard and the volunteer lifeboat crew if people start visiting beaches and entering the water.
In 2018 the percentage of lifeboat launches due to swimming was 6.3%, that includes the false alarms.
In the first weekend after water activities were "allowed" (16th - 17th May in England) there were 194 rescues reported by HM Coastguard, none of which involved swimmers:
"Coastguard rescue teams from around the UK were called out 194 times to incidents including inflatables drifting offshore, crashed and broken down jetskis and pleasure boats, people injured while out walking or cycling along the coast, paddleboarders, kayakers**, windsurfers and kite surfers who found themselves in difficulty and people cut off by the tide or stuck in mud."
As a RNLI Beach Lifeguard, and keen swimmer, I realise the awkward position HM Coastguard and the RNLI have been in during this uncertain time. That said I can't help get frustrated with how swimming is portrayed as a higher risk activity than many others. The evidence simply doesn't stack up.
Is swimming mis-represented at authority levels? If you are an adult who can't swim do you become anti-swimming? Are you resentful that your school or parents didn't teach you to swim? Does this skew your perception of the risks involved with swimming? Do decision-makers see swimming as a life-skill? And if not then why is swimming the only sport to be included within the national curriculum?
All primary schools must provide swimming and water safety lessons in either Key Stage 1 or 2. Each pupil is required to be able to do the following:
If children don't meet the above criteria is there a follow-up? Additional coaching time? In my experience, no. How school's are meant to meet the above criteria given the resources, time, and staffing available to them is a conundrum that hasn't been solved. There also seems to be a lack of access to swimming lessons for novice adults.
Perhaps if we as a society could deliver on this long-held requirement of our National Curriculum then we would take a bit of pressure off the RNLI, which was originally established to aid shipwrecked boats, not swimmers.
**on a side note, as a sea kayaker, I noted that fishermen who got into difficulty on a sit-on-top kayak at sea were classed as "kayakers" and not "anglers".