Luminous ladders and thermal imaging cameras – Two new ideas to improve York river safety

The emergency services on King's Staith in York. Photographs: YorkMix

Plans to install thermal imaging cameras along York’s rivers, paint the top of the ladders on the waters’ edge with glow in the dark paint and place a mental health helpline phone number on city centre benches were all considered at a river safety meeting.

Five people died in the city’s rivers in the space of just three weeks earlier this year.

Following the deaths, York Water Safety Forum met to discuss safety measures.


The minutes of the meeting have been revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

They show that the group has been looking at a number of initiatives to improve river safety.

These include proposals to show water safety videos on the big screen at York Racecourse on race days, encouraging the private riverside landowners to introduce prevention measures, and plans to education students at schools and universities about the danger of going in the rivers.

Information not available

The fire service and police at a river incident in York in April. Photograph: YorkMix
The minutes say data shows previous incidents happened in “quite a tight location”, mostly between 11pm and 3am. And that the average age of victims is 20 and the gender ratio is 12 males to three females.

Stuart Simpson from North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said collecting data is important because it will help the group plan what safety measures could be introduced and where.

But he said:

  • It has proven really difficult [to get information about incidents] and that makes it difficult to built up actions on where the biggest problems are.

    We are trying to find out where people entered the river and what the circumstances are. But a lot of the time that information isn’t available.

    Capturing the near misses might give us a clue – is it at the bridges, for example.

    In the fire service we look at what lessons can be learned from fatalities and would like to apply the same template to the tragic deaths in the rivers.

    But every one has been different so there are not a lot of trends.

    Five deaths in the space of three weeks is unacceptable.

    We are doing the best that we can and have some very proactive partners.


The group has already organised training sessions with riverside pubs, clubs and restaurants – helping staff learn how to rescue people and providing businesses with life-saving equipment and knowledge.

Mr Simpson said he would like to see more city centre businesses sign up for the training – and that working with mental health partners to support people who might be in distress and at risk of going in the rivers is the next step.

Student safety

The River Ouse. Photograph: YorkMix
A spokesman for the University of York said new students have a river safety talk as part of a welcome event at the campus and that the organisation is committed to the city-wide campaign.

The university also runs a scheme where volunteers patrol key routes across in York to ensure young people get home safely.

The spokesman said:

  • We take the issue of river safety very seriously at the University of York.

    At the beginning of every academic year new students have a river safety briefing as part of their welcome talk and the university continues throughout the year to run a variety of safety initiatives and campaigns.

The university has worked with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to produce a promotional advertising wrap which is now being displayed on the city’s main fire engine promoting the “Be Water Aware” campaign.

The mothers of two York river victims called for action to prevent more tragedies earlier this year.

Sharon Scott – mother of 29-year-old Steven O’Neill who died on April 20 – and Kate Ferry – whose 19-year-old son Sonny died on April 13 – spoke out after a fifth person drowned in the city’s rivers in the space of three weeks.