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Float to Live: Aggie’s story

When Aggie Kwiecien fell into a canal after losing her footing on the towpath, she remembered the safety advice she’d seen on TV, and it saved her life.

Aggie Kwiecien, wearing a blue tracksuit top and smiling into the camera

Photo: Matthew Ainsworth

Aggie Kwiecien, who saved her own life by remembering to float

Relax, don’t panic

Around 140 people lose their lives at the UK and Irish coasts each year, and over half never even planned to enter the water.

People like Aggie from Blackburn, who never intended to get wet. She was running along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool canal and the only water she was looking out for were puddles. 

As she tried to sidestep a particularly large puddle, her foot slipped on the canal bank and she tumbled into the icy water. ‘It felt like slow motion, even though it must have been a fraction of a second,’ recalls Aggie.

As she felt herself go in, Aggie remembered the RNLI safety advice she’d watched in an ad break on TV. ‘A calm voice in my head said: “OK, you’ve fallen into the canal. You know what to do: you mustn't panic, you have to resist the urge to thrash around. You have to float to the surface, just relax.”’

Regain control

So that’s what Aggie tried to do. She lay back in the water, tried to relax and waited to catch her breath.

After she’d regained control of her breathing she was able to call out for help, which attracted the attention of passers-by. Miraculously Aggie escaped uninjured, although she was left shaken by her ordeal.

‘It was probably a year since I’d seen the TV advert, but it was really ingrained. The image of people falling into the water and floating. You have just a few seconds to do the right thing. I didn’t envisage this happening to me, but in that moment I knew what to do. It was lifesaving.’

A muddy towpath with the canal to the right, a bridge up ahead and industrial buildings in the distance

Photo: Matthew Ainsworth

The spot where Aggie fell into the canal

Float to live

If, like Aggie, you find yourself in the water unexpectedly, follow these five steps – it could save your life.

  • Fight your instinct to thrash around.
  • Lean back, extend your arms and legs.
  • If you need to, gently move them around to help you float.
  • Float until you can control your breathing.
  • Only then, call for help or swim to safety.

If you’re at the coast and you see someone in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. If see someone in difficulty inland, on a river or a lake, you should ask for Fire and Rescue when you call for help. Don’t go in after them.

Read more survivor stories.

Respect the Water

Respect the Water, which aims to reduce the number of water-related deaths and accidents, is at the heart of our prevention work. You should enjoy the water – but also recognise its dangers and never underestimate its power. You can get more tips and advice about staying safe on our Respect the Water pages.