Enjoy your time on the towpaths safely this winter


The waterways are beautiful places to spend time when it’s frosty and snowy – and look great on Instagram – but on wet and icy towpaths, or when distracted by a mobile phone, the risk of slipping, tripping or falling into the cold water can increase.

Wintery towpath walk along the Grand Union Canal
Wintery towpath walk along the Grand Union Canal

Keeping safe

Anne Gardner-Aston, director of health and safety at Canal & River Trust, said: “For the millions of people living alongside them, especially in our towns and cities where green space is at a premium, canals and rivers provide a boost to health, happiness and wellbeing. The waterways look beautiful in the frost and snow and it’s no wonder people want to head to the towpath for a wintery walk. However, with the cold temperatures and the dark afternoons and nights, it’s even more important to remember to take care when walking, running or cycling next to water.

“When it’s very cold it’s all too easy to slip on ice or wet ground and fall in.  Even if you know the towpath like the back of your hand, one wrong step and you could end up in freezing cold water. So our message is to take care near the edge of the water, especially festive drinkers celebrating in waterside bars and pubs, go with someone or tell someone where you are going.”

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Top tips

Top tips if you fall into the water this winter:

  • Call for help
  • Try to stand up
  • If you can’t stand up, lie on your back in a star shape until help arrives.

Top tips if you find someone in the water this winter:

  • Stay on the towpath – DO NOT enter the water to help them
  • Call the emergency services
  • Shout to them to swim to you
  • Try to find something to help them stay afloat
  • Lie with your whole body on the towpath and try to reach them with a scarf or a long stick.

Respect the water

Towpaths, bridges and lock-sides can become slippery at this time of year and snow can conceal boat mooring rings and ropes which, unless people are paying attention, can be easy to trip over. And whilst frozen canals look beautiful no-one should ever attempt to walk on or test the thickness of the ice. Dog walkers are advised to keep dogs on leads during a freeze in case they run onto ice, and to never follow their pet on to a frozen canal. 

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Families should make sure that young children are kept within sight and made aware of the importance of staying away from the edge. We offer free water safety assemblies to primary schools, either in person or online.

#BeWaterSafe #RespectTheWater #canalandrivertrust #towpathtalk #canals #canalsandrivers #narrowboat #rivers #waterways #lifeonthecut #boating #boats

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