Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service is reminding local people of the dangers posed by rivers, lakes and ponds at this time of year.

On January 19, the service was called to help a 32-year-old man who had got into difficulties while canoeing in the River Avon near the radial sluice gates behind the Old Mill Public House in Harnham, Salisbury.

The canoeist had fallen into the white water beneath the footbridge and was clinging onto the side of the bridge to avoid being swept into deep water.

He was spotted by pedestrians who raised the alarm, and two members of the public climbed over the bridge railings and managed to hold onto him until emergency services arrived.

The man was pulled to safety by firefighters from Salisbury, using water rescue equipment, and his canoe was retrieved from the sluice gate by a specialist water rescue team from Amesbury fire station. The canoeist was taken to hospital where he spent the night recovering from the effects of hypothermia.

Station manager Mike Bagnall, from Salisbury, said: “Our rivers, lakes and ponds carry a higher risk than normal at this time of year.

"All rivers levels are extremely high, meaning the flows and currents are very strong. The water temperature is also very low, so anyone who falls in will quickly suffer the effects of shock and hypothermia.”

He praised the actions of the members of the public who put themselves in danger to save the canoeist, saying: “Without their quick thinking, the outcome of this could have been far worse.”

If you are thinking of using Wiltshire’s waterways in small boats, you should always:

• Make sure you have the skills and knowledge to fully understand the risks before you go near the water;

• Wear a lifejacket or floatation device;

• Wear the right clothing, such as a dry suit;

• Make sure someone else is with you; and

• Consider other people who may put their own lives at risk coming to your rescue.

If you see someone in danger in the water, always call 999 first and don’t enter the water yourself.