A last-minute decision by two firefighters to not go swimming due to rough seas has highlighted the importance of water safety.

Michelle Lowe and Rachael Seaman were at Sea Palling beach as part of the launch of the Norfolk Water Safety Forum (NWSF).

The pair, who both work at Stalham Fire Station, have been immersing themselves in cold water every day for 31 days - but strong winds and high waves on Thursday (March 31) made the sea too dangerous for swimming.

Yet all was not lost.

Greg Preston, chairperson of the NWSF, said their decision illustrated the importance of being aware of your surroundings before taking to the water.

"Rather than say don't go into open water, we want to remind people to practice safe open-water swimming," he said.

"We're blessed with waterways and the seaside in Norfolk and we would encourage them to swim safely."

Mr Preston encouraged people interested in open-water swimming to join groups and to follow their safety guidance.

He also invited such groups to join NWSF - which is a multi-agency forum including the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, Coastguard, RNLI, Norfolk Police, the Broads Authority and the Boat Hire Federation.

Nick Ayers, RNLI regional manager for water safety, said they chose Sea Palling to launch the forum as it is a "magnet for open water swimming and dipping".

Lockdowns over the past three years have contributed to an increase in popularity of both open-water swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.

He said that more people have taken to cold water swimming and dipping for the mental health benefits.

There has also been a huge increase in paddleboarding across Norfolk, which can be enjoyed by people of all ages if done in a safe way, he said.

"Every activity has its own risks. We encourage people to sign up at an accredited venue to learn how to stand up on a paddleboard and to get the right training and equipment.

He advised people to buy a buoyancy aid, always take your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch and tell somebody before you go.

From 2019 to 2021, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service have had 65 water rescue incidents, with 84 people being rescued by their crews.