Water Safety Stakeholder Group annual report: action plan

Annual report providing an update on collaborative working to help prevent drownings in Scotland.

Following a tragic spate of drowning incidents in Scotland’s waterways during the summer of 2021, the Minister for Community Safety convened meetings with a range of water safety stakeholders in August and September 2021 and in January 2022 to discuss renewed efforts to work together collaboratively to help to prevent drownings in Scotland and reach agreement on appropriate next steps.

This annual report provides an overview of the progress made since the action plan was published in March 2022. Water safety stakeholders will continue to work on the remaining outstanding actions and a further update will be provided in the 2024 annual report.

The stakeholders involved to date have been:

  • Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
  • Crown Estate Scotland
  • His Majesty’s Coastguard (HMCG)
  • Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
  • Police Scotland
  • Royal Lifesaving Society (RLSS)
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
  • Scottish Ambulance Service
  • Scottish Canals
  • Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN)
  • Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)
  • Scottish Government (including Education Scotland and Marine Scotland)
  • sportscotland
  • Scottish Swimming
  • Scottish Water
  • Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)
  • Water Safety Scotland (WSS)

A key theme emerging from the discussions has been the value of further supporting and solidifying the role of Water Safety Scotland (WSS) as a forum for enabling individual agencies to take a consistent, collaborative and evidence-based approach and ensure that the impact of their efforts is more than the sum of their parts.  To strengthen this pivotal role, the Scottish Government continues to fund RoSPA to provide operational support to WSS.  More broadly, as summarised in this document, the stakeholders have agreed to work in close partnership with WSS and also to focus actions across four key operational areas:

  • partnership working
  • intelligence gathering and sharing
  • awareness raising
  • skills training
  • response to incidents

Open the following outcomes to see the actions associated with them:

Outcome one: partnership working


We agree that efforts should continue to build on existing good practice in collaboration and engagement between our respective organisations; and to continue to support the role of Water Safety Scotland as a centre of expertise with a focus on improving water safety in Scotland.  

Action 1.1

All partners to consider becoming members of Water Safety Scotland.

Lead Organisation(s): all

Status: 56 organisations  are members, including almost all members of the Roundtable. Membership is encouraged on an ongoing basis.

Timing: complete.

Action 1.2  

Relevant partners to identify members within their organisations to sit on Water Safety Scotland Subgroups and devote time and energy to  taking forward their respective work programmes.

Lead Organisation(s): all

Status: members have been identified to sit on subgroups. Further encouragement to engage with WSS subgroups and working groups is required.

Timing: complete.

Action 1.3

Identify appropriate routes for families affected by water-related fatalities to be involved in identifying and developing improvements to current practice.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: Complete – RoSPA organised training with Child Bereavement UK for Water Safety Scotland members. Additionally, WSS signposts the bereaved to specialist organisations.

 Timing: complete.

Outcome two: intelligence gathering and sharing


We have reviewed our approaches to information gathering and sharing, including around fatal and non-fatal incidents. We agree to share data more collegiately and have an agreed process in place for this data to be pulled together and shared to facilitate mutual understanding of issues and improvements in practice.

Action 2.1

Introduce a voluntary Drowning and Incident Review (DIR) procedure to ensure a comprehensive review of each accidental water-related  fatality to gather all relevant data and intelligence to help prevent future incidents.           

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: research is complete and has been published via BMJ Injury Prevention. The key recommendations from the research have been implemented by SFRS and RoSPA (including updated guidance). All lead Search and Rescue organisations have endorsed DIR and support has been provided by COPFS and National Hub for Reviewing and Learning from the Deaths of Children and Young People.

DIR went live on 2 May 2023.

A training package is available for all those likely to be involved in DIR.

Lead Search and Rescue Organisations need continued encouragement to ensure DIR is fully implemented across Scotland.

Timing: complete.

Action 2.2

RoSPA to build on and progress further improvements to the Water Incident Database (WAID)  system to ensure data can be shared quickly, securely and in real time. 

Lead Organisation(s): RoSPA

Status: WAID version 2 build is ongoing. It is anticipated that DIR data will be inputted into WAID in the future. DIR data will be securely held by SFRS and used by WSS (via RoSPA) for analysis and auditing purposes.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 2.3

Police Scotland to feed incident data into the Water Incident Database (WAID).

Lead Organisation: Police Scotland     

Status: work is ongoing by Police Scotland to ensure their active role in the implementation of DIR.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 2.4

Continue to support and develop Partnership Approach to Water Safety   (PAWS) Groups to collate and utilise relevant data from stakeholders  to develop comprehensive local approaches to drowning prevention. 

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland, RNLI, SFRS, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, COSLA and SOLACE

Status: PAWS groups are now active in the majority of Scotland’s local authorities but still require consolidation and ongoing support from WSS. 10 areas have been agreed to take priority over the first 2 quarters of the 2023 financial year. Other PAWS groups will remain supported. A full template package and guidance document is available for PAWS groups.  An annual meeting is held for PAWS chairs and a specific online forum has been set up to help support communication between group chairs.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park continues to attend and support 3 PAWS groups in Stirling, West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute. RNLI continues to support and attend existing PAWS groups.

Timing: local PAWS group meetings held quarterly or bi-monthly.

Action 2.5   

Scottish Ambulance Service to analyse water incident data to identify hotspot areas and review current location of water assets.

Lead Organisation(s): Scottish Ambulance Service

Status: work is ongoing by Scottish Ambulance Service to sign up to DIR and be involved nationally and locally.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 2.6 ​​​

RoSPA to analyse WAID data to identify hotspot areas and provide information to SFRS to utilise across Scotland and use this to implement action plans for these areas through the creation of PAWS groups.

Lead Organisation(s): SFRS and RoSPA

Status: RoSPA provided WAID data to SFRS and hosted a policy workshop for local authorities in November 2022. This workshop will take place on an annual basis.

RoSPA will continue to share WAID data with SFRS on water incident hotspots, until DIR data is available in reported form.

The Action Plan requested the top 10 water related incident locations (identified via WAID) to have a “Hotspot Action Plan”. These were supplied to SFRS who have subsequently identified another 17 utilising local knowledge and have created 27 Hotspot Action Plans to improve safety in these locations.

SFRS have linked with partners and utilised established PAWS Groups to coordinate this response to make best use of resources and promote safety within the identified locations.

As of 2023, RoSPA and SFRS have prioritised PAWS areas into a matrix (using updated data) to establish the 10 priority local authority areas for WSS and partners to concentrate effort on over the first two quarters of 2023.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 2.7

His Majesty’s Coastguard to share intelligence with all Scottish Local Authorities on incident trends to allow more targeted and responsive mitigations to be put in place.

Lead Organisation(s): HMCG

Status: HMCG is in the process of finalising this information and the method in which it will be shared. It is intended that this data be shared imminently with Local Authorities. WSS is willing to add to the messaging to match their communications toolkit.

Timing: summer 2023.

Action 2.8

Collate data on water sports participation in Scotland to identify emerging/new sports and changing behaviour in relation to water sports participation and subsequent requirements for awareness-raising and training to reflect this.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland and sportscotland

Status: Sportscotland has provided WSS with available data on sports participation in Scotland. This data does not provide a comprehensive picture and the Data Subgroup is collaborating with partners to consider other data sources. WSS continues to strengthen their relationships with sportscotland and NGBs.

Timing: ongoing.

Outcome three: awareness raising


We agree to enhance existing activity around raising awareness of the dangers of water and all aspects of water safety, notably through engagement and support of Water Safety Scotland; and we agree to promote appropriately consistent signage and ensure that it is correctly positioned.

Action 3.1

Deliver enhanced educational resources.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: two water safety workshops have been developed and are available for delivery. These include a summer workshop and a winter workshop which concentrates on ice safety (this is in response to the December 2022 tragic event when 4 boys died after falling through a frozen lake in England).

Timing: complete.

Action 3.1 (a)

Develop and roll out a national educational resource on water safety for each educational level on water safety.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland and Education Scotland

Status:  The progression pathway was launched in April 2022.

  • Early Level November 2022
  • First Level February 2023
  • Second Level March 2023
  • Third/Fourth Level April 2022
  • Senior Years June 2022

All levels include extension activities.

Timing: complete.

Action 3.1(b)

Develop progression pathway, lesson plans and supporting guidance to aid practitioners in water safety teaching and learning.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: WSS and Education Scotland have launched a full progression pathway for water safety education for schools in Scotland.

Timing: complete.

Action 3.1(c)

Create Scotland-specific video resources.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: WSS has created a number of videos specific for the education resources. Education Scotland have also created videos featuring the swimmers Toni Shaw and Duncan Scott. Additional videos (with a focus on recreation) are planned via WSS’s REC working group for late 2023.

Timing: complete.

Action: 3.1 (d)

Encourage young people to experience being safe in open water environments.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland

Status: the WSS REC working group have developed a number of complimentary activity specific water safety codes. These will be promoted throughout Scotland via partners.

Additionally (as above) videos have been planned to compliment the codes using social media. The REC group is also working with specific manufacturers to highlight the water safety code at point of sale.

Timing: 2023 to 2024.

Action 3.2 

Develop and promote consistent public safety messaging on water safety and drowning prevention in advance of spring and summer 2022.

Lead Organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland, with all stakeholders as appropriate.

Status: WSS’s Scotland’s Water Safety Codeis the key message for drowning prevention in Scotland. Almost all partners are utilising the message and complimenting their own messaging with the Code. A full comms toolkit has been developed and social media including social media and campaign assets.

Thanks to funding from SFRS and RNLI, the WSS website has been successfully updated.

WSS partners are actively encouraged to co-brand their campaigns and use the Water Safety code within their messaging.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 3.3

Put in place a programme of pop-up water safety events during 2022 at key sites in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to promote water safety and drowning prevention. 

Lead Organisation(s): Loch Lomond  and The Trossachs National Park

Status: 8 partner events scheduled between April and August 2023. 3 events completed to date at various locations, engaging with approximately 400 people. Focussed events at the start and end of National Drowning Prevention Week (17-24 June).

Ranger trainers have delivered Waterside Responder sessions to over 15 businesses across the National Park training 50+ staff. A further 40+ Rangers from across Scotland benefitted from training provided by LLTNPA Ranger trainers.

Timing: ongoing during 2023.

Action 3.4

Undertake an audit of existing water safety signage in Scotland to facilitate the delivery of a consistent, effective approach. 

Lead Organisation(s): RoSPA, RNLI. SCSN and Water Safety Scotland

Status: the full report has been published: https://www.watersafetyscotland.org.uk/media/2157/water-safety-signage-audit-report.pdf.

Funding is required for the next stage of the project. However, plans are underway to scope a smaller project examining safety signage currently on display at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Through a public survey, this aims to gain insight into awareness and understanding of the signage there. This will inform whether the same signage could be upscaled throughout Scotland, leading to the safety signage consistency we strive for. Partners involved include: LLTNPA, SCSN, RoSPA/WSS.

Timing: complete.

Action 3.5

Compile a list of Scottish beaches and carry out an audit of public rescue equipment and signage to help identify suitable control measures to prevent injury and drowning. 

Lead organisation(s): RNLI

Status: signage and Public Rescue Equipment audits have been carried out by the RNLI on several beaches in Scotland. The audits were carried out on beaches where incidents occurred, or in response to a request made by the landowner. These will be shared with landowners in Autumn 2023.

Timing: Autumn 2023.

Action 3.6

Undertake a two year programme to review signage and security at the most popular reservoirs in Scotland.

Lead organisation(s): Scottish Water, including Police Scotland

Status: as part of Scottish Water’s “Enabling Access” project, Police Scotland is focusing on the most problematic reservoirs. A total of 15 specific locations across Scotland have been identified due to incidents of anti-social behaviour, camping, parking issues and swimming incidents being reported.

A range of tangible improvements to sites has been undertaken including new signage, the removal of old messaging plus significantly, the employing of Rangers to carry out patrols on some of the more problematic reservoirs. In addition, messaging via social media has been regularly sent out, along with Police Scotland’s continued engagement with Partners via the Visitor Management Strategy and Chairmanship of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).

Scottish Water is developing a risk assessment process for identifying potential issues at their most popular reservoirs. New signage is being piloted at Gladhouse Reservoir this summer, which will be assessed through independent research with reservoir visitors. This insight will inform Scottish Water’s future signage.

Timing: ongoing to March 2024.

Action 3.7

Erect signage at popular hotspots in Loch Lomond  and The Trossachs National Park.

Lead organisation(s): Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Status: Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park seasonal signage is in place at popular hotspots. Signs contain a QR code linking directly to the dedicated water safety webpage on Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park website. In 2023 Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park have co-branded their seasonal signage with the WSS logo. Replacement permanent signage will also incorporate the WSS logo to help promote national awareness.

Rangers are continuing to engage with visitors and campers on a daily basis promoting water safety, while patrols also monitor that signs remain in place at these key access points to lochs within the National Park. In 2023 Rangers will distribute the WSS code leaflets to visitors within the National Park, promoting the WSS website to access the code in different languages where necessary. Rangers will also promote the new WSS activity codes to loch users including paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming.

Timing: in place and will run until end of Sept 2023.

Action 3.8

 Carry out a review of water safety and drowning prevention arrangements across all canals and destinations to deliver a consistent and proportionate approach to help identify measures (including signage, public rescue equipment and communications) that will reduce the likelihood of drownings on our waterways.

Lead organisation(s): Scottish Canals

Status: Scottish Canals has carried out an initial review of water safety and drowning arrangements across a selection of sites in conjunction with RoSPA. They are now in the process of developing strategy and standards to be applied across the wider estate. The immediate focus has been around their reservoirs where they have developed a range of enhanced signage for users with key messages and alignment with #respectthewater campaign; and provided additional signage in reaction to silt hazard resulting from lower water levels.

Timing: ongoing to March 2024. 

Action 3.9

Promote water safety partnership working.

Lead organisation(s): RoSPA and Water Safety Scotland

Status: WSS has successfully held two major events over the past year to help promote partnership working. These include the (online) Water Safety Conference held on the 7 April which had 177 delegates as well as the Water Safety Open day held on World Drowning Prevention Day (25 July).

A second event for World Drowning Prevention Day is planned for 2023. An information exchange meeting for all WSS members is also planned for the 13th September.

Timing: ongoing.

Outcome four - skills training


We will review what core skills are required for the general population and for specific groups and agree our role in developing and improving these skills.

Action 4.1

Deliver the ‘Waterside Responders’ course to those who live or work near water to train the public on the use of water-related public rescue equipment.

Lead organisation(s): RNLI and SFRS, supported by Water Safety Scotland.

Status: Developed and rolled out train the trainer course. SFRS and RNLI have worked in partnership to deliver WRS in the following locations as part of an initial four-stage pilot:

  • Bowling Harbour, West Dunbartonshire 21 April 2022
  • Loch Lomond, National Park – 22 April 2022
  • Dumfries, River Nith – 16 and 17 June 2022
  • Kinghorn Beach, Fife – 4 July 2022
  • River Clyde, Glasgow City Centre – 18 and 19 August 2022
  • SFRS MacDonald Road, Edinburgh (Water of Leith) – 6 April 2023.

The pilot has created approximately 50 Waterside Responder Trainers from multiple agencies capable of delivering life-saving guidance to persons who live or work near water.

Approximately 20 businesses near water have undertaken Waterside Responder Training during the pilot which has improved water safety awareness in the locations.

WSS and SFRS have paused their support of the Waterside Responder Scheme until the governance of the project and delivery model is improved and agreed by the key partners involved. RNLI are actioning improvements which were highlighted by the pilot. The improvements are underway and RNLI hopes to be carrying out further activity shortly across Scotland including in Fife, Scottish Borders and Oban areas.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 4.2

Develop practical lifesaving provision across Scotland, including lifesaving training.

Lead organisation(s): RLSS

Status: RLSS has set up a new community voluntary infrastructure in Scotland which is intended to increase water safety education and training. This is a national structure that has identified hub locations for targeting of training. It is anticipated that the hubs will be established by the end of November 2022 with the creation of activity into 2023. 

Timing: ongoing.

Action 4.3

Promote quality learn to swim programmes.

Lead organisation(s): Scottish Swimming and Scottish Water         

Status: Scottish Swimming continues to support the National Learn Swim Framework partners,

Timing: ongoing.

Action 4.4

School swimming provision.

Lead organisation(s): Scottish Swimming, sportscotland, Scottish Water, local authorities.

Status: Scottish Swimming have established a project group that has met regularly and has agreed an approach to pilot 4 different delivery models of school swimming to shape and develop a School Swimming Framework. Lessons learned from the pilots will be embedded within the School Swimming Framework to support the potential roll-out of larger scale programme over the next few years.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 4.5

Explore the scope for designated ‘safe swimming’ locations in Scotland.

Lead organisation(s): RLSS

Status: RLSS is building a case of support for landowners and local authorities to consider the benefits of safe swimming zones. One of the main potential barriers to this will be the cost associated with funding lifeguard provision. RLSS is building pre-existing case studies to create a cost-benefit analysis which will help inform options for going forward.

Timing: ongoing.

Outcome five: response to incidents


We have more effective and proactive preparations for responding to incidents; and have considered the most effective collaborative approach to resource distribution, alert notification, rapid mobilisation and location identification.

Action 5.1

Explore potential to develop a Search and Rescue Water Safety Subgroup focussed on emergency response to water safety incidents. 

Lead organisation(s): Water Safety Scotland, SFRS, Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance Service and HM Coastguard

Status: WSS has successfully set up a full Search and Rescue (SAR) subgroup. The subgroup was initially chaired by SRFS but is now chaired by HMCG to focus on emergency response to a water-based emergency. Full workplan is updated and work ongoing with planned events in 2023.

The subgroup is planning to deliver three multi-agency exercises in late 2022/23 to ensure appropriate levels of interoperability between emergency services/partners and will be assisted by SMARTEU for learning opportunities.

The subgroup intends to delivery three multi-agency exercises in late 2022/23 to ensure appropriate levels of interoperability between emergency services/partners and will be assisted by SMARTEU for learning opportunities:

  • Exercise Lubnaig. Delivered 5/10/22
  • Exercise Neptune. Scheduled summer 2023
  • Exercise Telford. Scheduled summer 2023

Timing: complete.

Action 5.2

Emergency responders to identify any areas of improvement and joint training requirements.

Lead organisation(s): SFRS, Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance Service and HM Coastguard

Status: WSS SAR subgroup have identified opportunities for joint training with 3 exercises across Scotland to test and improve Emergency Service Response.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 5.3

Review the ‘Multi Agency Incident Response Guidance’ (MAIRG) for Loch Lomond in advance of summer 2022 to ensure protocols are consistent and effective.

Lead organisation(s): Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

Status: A review of the MAIRG was undertaken by Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park in early 2022 in consultation with local and national partners. This review resulted in a refreshed and relevant guidance document for multi-agency response to Loch Lomond.  A decision was taken at the WSS SAR subgroup to review MAIRG annually. It is currently under review with Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond Rescue Boat and Police Scotland before sharing with wider partners.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 5.4

Undertake training exercises on alert notification, rapid mobilisation and response.

Lead organisation(s): Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park / PAWS (led by PAWS, supported by LLTNPA)

Status: these elements are being tested during the training exercises listed in 5.2 to ensure effective notification and appropriate response to reports of emergency incidents.

At the 10 February 2023 WSS SAR subgroup, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and Police Scotland held a group discussion on the incident protocol for Loch Lomond. A follow up exercise will be arranged.

Post-incident meetings take place to highlight areas of improvement.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 5.5

Ongoing review of the nature, number and deployment of incident response and of rescue equipment.

Lead organisation(s): all Search & Rescue stakeholders

Status: these elements are being tested during the training exercises listed in 5.2 to ensure the most appropriate resources are mobilised to incidents and that emergency responders understand partner assets and resource availability.

Timing: ongoing.

Action 5.6

Support to local Search and Rescue Committees in all coastal areas of Scotland.

Lead organisation(s): HM Coastguard

Status: local Search and Rescue Committees are chaired by HMCG and are present in all coastal areas of Scotland. They review data and trends to identify where changes to resource distribution are required and ensure that the response to incidents is appropriate. HMCG has shared this data via WAID.

Timing: ongoing.




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