Last Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Water Safety

What is this?

Water Safety Scotland logoIn partnership with Water Safety Scotland, Education Scotland has brought together partner agencies - including RNLI and Scottish Swimming as well as public sector groups - to create these learning resources to support water safety education across all ages and stages.

Links to sections:

Who is this for?

School practitioners and CLD delivering water safety education.

"Every year we hear of tragic accidents taking place in Scotland’s waters as many young people are not aware of the dangers of swimming in open waters.

"That is why we welcomed the opportunity to work with Water Safety Scotland to develop educational materials that aim to increase awareness of water safety. We hope that this information will reach as many children and young people as possible to ensure they are aware of the dangers that come with going into open water."

Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education

As part of the National Drowning Prevention Strategy 2018 – 2026 Water Safety Scotland aims to drive a generational change in aquatic activity in Scotland with a key focus on promoting the Water Safety Scotland Code.

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Scotland’s Water Safety Code

Water Safety Code posterIt’s important that we all stay safe in and around Scotland’s waters. Conditions in open water sites such as the sea, rivers, lochs and quarries for example, change constantly and can be dangerous. Tragically, on average, around 97 people drown in Scotland each year.

To stay safe and enjoy Scotland’s waters follow these three lifesaving tips whenever you are in, around or near the water.

1. Before entering the water - Stop and Think: Spot the Dangers

Scottish waters are cold, even in the warmer months. Immersion in cold water can cause something called Cold Water Shock. Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in your skin to close and your heart rate to increase. As a result your heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in people who are relatively young and healthy.

The sudden cooling of your skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing by as much as ten times their usual rate . All these responses can contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into your lungs – with serious consequences.

This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of water to enter the lungs for a fully grown adult to start drowning. After this water has entered the lungs, a person could die without medical care.

Before entering the water, check for any signs or flags warning of potential dangers. The depth of the water may hide underwater ledges, hidden currents and other unseen items likes rubbish or broken glass which you could injure yourself on.

Before you enter the water, always ensure you have a safe way out, taking account of tides, currents and winds.

In the winter months keep off all frozen water, you can’t tell how thick it is and it may break easily under pressure.

2. When you are in the water - Stay Together: Stay Close

  • It’s always safer to go into the water with someone else.
  • If you do get into trouble in the water or fall in unexpectedly it’s important that you stay calm. Fight your instinct to swim until the effects of cold water shock pass. The best advice is to float!
  • Lean back and extend your arms and legs
  • If you need to , gently move your arms and legs around to help you float.
  • Float until you control your breathing
  • Only then call for help, swim to safety or continue floating until help arrives

3. In an Emergency

  • If you see someone in trouble do not enter the water – call for help.
  • Look for a throw line or life ring you can throw to the person to help them float.
  • Call 999 or 112, the emergency call handler will direct you to the relevant emergency service.
  • For inland waters likes lochs, canals or quarries your call will be directed to the Fire and Rescue Service. For the seaside ask for the coastguard.


To keep yourself and others safe in Scottish waters:

  • Before entering the water - Stop and Think: Spot the Dangers
  • When in the water - Stay Together: Stay Close;

In an Emergency

  • Do not enter the water if you see someone in trouble
  • Look for a throw line or life ring to help the person float; and finally
  • Call 999 and wait for the emergency services

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Water Safety and the Scottish Curriculum

Education plays a key role in Water Safety Scotland’s strategy with age and stage appropriate water safety education supporting all children and young people 3-18 to develop valuable lifesaving knowledge, skills and understanding.

These resources support all practitioners to further develop children and young people’s understanding and awareness of the dangers of open water, enabling them to safely participate in water based activities. There is one lesson per key educational level with a lesson progression pathway.

Watch E-Sgoil’s Scotland’s Assembly on Water Safety from Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park with Olympic Swimmer Duncan Scott.

E-Sgoil’s digital learning space for outdoor water safety Outdoor Water Safety (

All levels
PDF file: Progression Pathways (854 KB)

Early Level *expected June 2022

First Level *expected July 2022

Second Level *expected October 2022

Third / Fourth Level
PDF file: Summary and background (98 KB)
PDF file: Lesson Plan - Third fourth Level (327 KB)
PPT file: Water Safety Presentation (6 MB)

Senior Phase
PPT file: Senior Phases Lesson (5 MB)
PDF file: Senior Phase Lesson Plan (415 KB)
PDF file: Scenarios A5 cards (380 KB)

Water Safety and Community Learning Development (CLD)

Water safety information and education should be inclusive and accessible to all. These resources can be used in schools, community settings and at home.

PDF file: Activity cards (905 KB)
PDF file: Water Safety Workshop - Lesson plan (534 KB)
PPT file: Water Safety Workshop - (Read only) (7 MB)

Many partners are currently working with schools to deliver and enhance water safety education including:


Specific content within the Scottish Curriculum - with the exception of Religious and Moral Education - is non-statutory. The Scottish Government expects schools to continue to work towards the provision of at least two hours of good quality physical education for every child each week.

The Physical Education Curriculum enables the provision of a broad range of physical activities appropriate to the schools context to be delivered. Swimming and other water-based activities is one possible context schools can use to deliver some of experiences and outcomes for Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport – an organiser in the Health and Wellbeing curriculum.

The Physical Education curriculum:

  • provides learners with a platform from which they can build physical competences, improve aspects of fitness, and develop personal and interpersonal skills and attributes.
  • enables learners to develop the concepts and skills necessary for participation in a wide range of physical activity, sport, dance and outdoor learning, and enhances their physical wellbeing in preparation for leading a fulfilling, active and healthy lifestyle.

Education Scotland is working with Scottish Swimming to develop a framework for school swimming, where there is capacity, and resources that practitioners can use to effectively develop basic swimming competency within a school context.

Below is a list of accreditation and achievement sources currently available related to aquatic activity currently available through SQA:

Swimming in your local community

One of the best ways to stay safe around water is to know how to swim. Going swimming at your local pool is a great way of spending time together as a family. The Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC) is free of charge to children and young people living in Scotland. They can use their Young Scot National Entitlement Card in some local authorities to gain discounted or free access to local swimming pools. Furthermore, young people 5-21 years old living in Scotland can now apply to access free bus travel. For more details please refer to the Young Scot website.

Learning to swim should be fun. Scottish Swimming have developed a number of water based games and activities parents and carers can do with their child in the swimming pool to help develop their child(s) confidence and competence in the water. You can access these activities on the Scottish Swimming website Learn to Swim.

Parents and carers can find out more about how to keep children safe in and around water on Parentzone - Keeping your child safe in the water and Water safety from Parent Club.

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