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Emergency services / New water safety policy needs to be ‘well understood’ by the community – and put in place quickly, councillor says

Councillor Alastair Cooper. Photo: SIC

THE ONGOING development of a water safety policy for Shetland is particularly important due to the rise of wild swimmers and recreational activities like kayaking, a meeting heard this week.

Shetland’s first water safety policy is set to go out to public consultation after being given the thumbs up from members of the isles’ community safety and resilience board on Thursday.

One key aim of the policy is to prevent water incidents and accidental drowning deaths in Shetland, and promote safe participation of recreational activities.

A water safety leaflet created in partnership with emergency services was recently distributed across Shetland to parents and carers of children.

The idea of a formal policy has been worked on since voluntary organisation Water Safety Scotland put out a call for all of the country’s local authorities to think about developing one.

Water Safety Scotland aims to reduce accidental drowning deaths in Scotland by 50 per cent by 2026.

The draft water safety policy highlights that people are never more than three miles away from the sea in Shetland.

There is nearly 1,700 miles of coastline, more than 300 lochs and nearly 180 commercial fishing boats in the isles.

Plenty is going on already; all pupils from primary one to secondary two are offered six sessions of swimming per school year, while lower primary children have the opportunity to take part in class excursions to the Lerwick or Aith lifeboat stations.

The council’s outdoor education service also delivers a number of different activities such as kayaking and coasteering, in which education forms a key part.

The coastguard can also visit schools and the RNLI also holds events.

Those behind the policy are keen to ‘risk map’ to identify hotspots, and improve data collection for water incidents, whilst developing a more coordinated approach to promoting public awareness.

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Partnership working is also an integral focus.

At Thursday’s meeting board chairman Alastair Cooper said it was worth getting the policy set in stone as soon as possible.

He said it was particularly prevalent due to a number of recent water-related deaths on mainland Scotland.

“We don’t want to see any fatalities in Shetland,” Cooper warned.

“This policy needs to be highlighted and well understood within the community.”

Cooper highlighted an increased interest in what people are calling wild swimming – taking a dip in the sea.

“A lot more folk are swimming in the sea and they need to be aware of the risk,” he said.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall also noted a “big upturn” recently in the number of people that are heading out on the water locally for activities such as kayaking.

Meanwhile Lerwick councillor Stephen Flaws said there needs to be balance struck between promoting safety while still encouraging people to enjoy Shetland’s waters.

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