Water cannon

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Water cannon during a German demonstration, 2001

A water cannon is a device that shoots a high-velocity stream of water. Typically, a water cannon can deliver a large volume of water, often over dozens of meters. They are used in firefighting, large vehicle washing and riot control. Most water cannons fall under the category of a fire monitor.


Main article: Fire monitor

Water cannons were first devised for use on fireboats. Extinguishing fires on boats and buildings near the water was much more difficult and dangerous before fireboats were invented. The first fireboat deployed in Los Angeles was commissioned on 1 August 1919. The first fireboat in New York City was Marine 1, deployed 1 February 1891. There may have been other fireboats elsewhere even earlier.

Fire trucks deliver water with much the same force and volume of force as water cannons, and have even been used in riot control situations, but are rarely referred to as water cannons outside this context.

Riot control[edit]

First German Police water cannon

The first truck-mounted water cannon were used for riot control in Germany in the beginning of the 1930s.[1]

The most modern versions do not expose the operator to the riot, and are controlled remotely from within the vehicle by a joystick. The German-built WaWe 10.000 can carry 10,000 litres (2,200 imp gal) of water, which can deploy water in all directions via three cannons, all of which are remotely controlled from inside the vehicle by a joystick. The vehicle has two forward cannons with a delivery rate of 20 litres per second (260 imp gal/min), and one rear canon with a delivery rate of 15 litres per second (200 imp gal/min)[citation needed]

Water cannons designed for riot control are still made in the United States and the United Kingdom, but most products are exported, particularly to Africa and parts of Asia.


Use of water cannon in riot control contexts can lead to injury or death,[2] with fatalities recorded in Indonesia (in 1996, when the cannon's payload contained ammonia),[3] Zimbabwe (in 2007, when the use of cannons on a peaceful crowd caused panic),[4] Turkey (in 2013, when the payload was laced with "liquid teargas"),[5] and Ukraine (in 2014, with the death of activist and businessman Bogdan Kalynyak, reportedly catching pneumonia after being sprayed by water cannon in freezing temperatures).[6] South Korea used water cannons containing capsaicin in recent protests against its citizens.

Water cannons in use during the 1960s, which were generally adapted fire trucks, would knock protesters down and on occasion, tear their clothes.

On 30 September 2010, during a protest demonstration against the Stuttgart 21 project in Germany, a demonstrator was hit in the face by a water cannon.[7] Dietrich Wagner, a retired engineer, suffered from the damage to his eyelids, a fracturing of a portion of the retinal bone, and damage to the retinas.[8] The eye injuries thus inflicted on the man resulted in near-complete loss of eyesight.[7][9] Graphic imagery was recorded of the event, sparking a national debate about police brutality and proportionality in the use of state force.

According to a report issued in the United Kingdom[citation needed], using plastic bullets instead of water cannon was justified because the latter "are inflexible and indiscriminate", although several people had previously been killed[10] or seriously injured by plastic bullets.[citation needed]

Media effect[edit]

The presence of the media at riots has had a significant impact on water cannon use. There is much pressure on police departments to avoid bad publicity, and water cannon often play badly in the press. It is considered that this is a likely reason that they are not used more often in certain countries.

Confrontations that took place in the era of the American Civil Rights Movement where water cannon were used by authorities to disperse crowds of protesting African Americans, has led to the demise of water cannon in the United States.[11]

Alternative payload[edit]


In 1997, pink dye was reportedly added to the water used by Indonesian police to disperse a riot.[12] The implication is that they might use this mark to make it easier to arrest rioters later. The United Kingdom, which had sold the water cannon to Indonesia, condemned this practice (although the Royal Ulster Constabulary had used a water cannon with purple dye during The Troubles in Northern Ireland) but later approved the sale of further water cannons to them. Most modern water cannons are also capable of adding tear gas to the stream.

Electrified water cannon[edit]

In 2004, Jaycor Tactical Systems was experimenting with additives (salt and additives to reduce the breakup of the stream into droplets) that would allow electricity to be conducted through water. They have demonstrated delivery from a distance of up to twenty feet (6 m), but have not yet tested the device on people.[13]

Although referred to as an electrified water cannon, this experiment involved a water jet much less powerful than a water cannon.

Other types[edit]

Water cannon differ from other similar devices in the volume of water delivered in a given time, the nozzle speed, the pressure that it is delivered at, and to a lesser extent the total volume that can be delivered. They are also generally portable. The method of employment is also important in labeling a device a water cannon. Nevertheless, the distinction between a water cannon and other similar devices is fuzzy. For example:-

  • Pressure washers generally produce an extremely high pressure stream where the power of the stream drops off significantly over a very short distance.
  • Water pistols and other toys deliver much less water at a much lower pressure with a much lower volume of water.
  • Ultra high pressure water jet cutters are used to cut a wide variety of materials including granite, concrete (see hydrodemolition), ceramics, fabric and even Kevlar.[14] One such cutter delivers 55,000 psi (380 MPa) through a nozzle 0.003 inch (8 micrometres) in diameter at 1 kilometre per second. This can cut a person in half at close range. There are reports of accidental deaths involving the industrial use of high-pressure water.[15]


Water cannon are still in use on a large scale in Chile, Belgium and other parts of Europe.


The State of New South Wales in Australia purchased a water cannon in 2007, with a view to using it during an APEC meeting in Sydney that year.[16][17] It was not used.[18] It was the first purchase of a water cannon in Australia.


WaWe 10.000 of Hamburg Riot Police

The annual riots on 1 May in Berlin, the Schanzenfest fair in Hamburg, which regularly ends in riots, or other demonstrations, are usually accompanied by water cannon, which support riot police. German communities use their water cannon in hot summers to water public parks. The most commonly used water cannon in Germany is the Wasserwerfer 9000.


The Turkish police water cannon TOMA has been used against protestors many times, including the 2013 protests in Turkey,[19] and are often present at protests of all sizes.

United Kingdom[edit]

Until 2014, although manufactured there, there were only six water cannons in the United Kingdom, all held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Water cannon use outside Northern Ireland is not approved, and would require the statutory authorisation of Parliament in England, or the devolved assembly's for Scotland and Wales. In June 2014, London's Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Stephen Greenhalgh authorised the Metropolitan Police to buy three second-hand water cannon from the German Federal Police. Mayor of London Boris Johnson said that the purchase had been authorised before Parliamentary approval, as the three cannon cost £218,000 to purchase and would require a further £125,000 of work before being deemed suitable for service, as opposed to £870,000 for a single new machine.[20] But after a study of their safety and effectiveness, Home Secretary Theresa May said in Parliament in July 2015 that she had decided not to licence them for use.[21]

United States[edit]

Truck-based water cannon were used widely in the United States during the 1960s for riot control. Although they were safer than a combination of firearms, tear gas, and batons, their use as a non-lethal riot control mechanism has fallen out of favor in the United States.[citation needed] Since the 1960s, other higher-tech non-lethal weapons have been developed for domestic use. Whether these newer weapons are more effective and safer than water cannon remains controversial. Their competing vendors disagree as to which is more effective and safer.[citation needed]


Other meanings[edit]

The term "water cannon" could also refer to:-

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fedor Lapshin (Федор ЛАПШИН), ''Vodyannoye ohlazdhenie'' (Водяное охлаждение)". Trucks.autoreview.ru. 
  2. ^ Anna Feifenbaum (25 February 2014). "White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses". OpenDemocracy. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  3. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/british-arms-help-jakarta-fight-war-against-its-own-people-oveyr-2-1275264.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ https://web.archive.org/20070221053037/http://newzimbabwe.com:80/pages/mdc44.15976.html. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=49009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ https://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/activist-watered-by-police-died-because-of-pneumonia-335885.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b "Wasserwerfer-Opfer bleibt auf einem Auge blind" [Water cannon victim blinded in one eye] (in German). 13 October 2010. Archived from the original on 23 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  8. ^ "Injured Stuttgart 21 protestor could stay blind." The Local. 6 October 2010. Retrieved on 22 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Blinded Stuttgart 21 protestor wants apology". 28 December 2010. Archived from the original on 23 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  10. ^ "List of People Killed by 'Rubber' and 'Plastic' Bullets". 14 March 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  11. ^ Fred Khoroushi (interviewee, President Alpine Armoring, Tony Long (writer), Bruce Nash (creator) (2003-03-13). "Non-Lethal Weapons". Modern Marvels. Season 9. Episode 9. History Channel. 
  12. ^ Indonesia and East Timor: Arms and security transfers undermine human rights. 3 June 1997. Amnesty International [1]
  13. ^ "Jaycor Water Cannon". Archived from the original on 26 June 2004. Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  14. ^ "How a Water Jet Machine Works". JET EDGE Waterjet Systems. 
  15. ^ "OSHA Cites Contractor Following Employee's Death from Exposure to High-Pressure Water Jet Cutting Streams". : OSHA Region 10 News Release:. Dec 11, 2001. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "Wet v wild: riot squad shows off its $700,000 weapon". Sydney Morning Herald. 21 August 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  17. ^ http://www.treasury.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0020/4196/bp3_16police_n.rtf
  18. ^ "0712 – WATER CANNON". Parliament.nsw.gov.au. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  19. ^ Ece Temelkuran (2013-06-03). "Istanbul is burning". Occupy Wall Street. 
  20. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-27781673
  21. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33538171
  22. ^ V.P. Silva. "Rechargeable Watercraft With Motorized Water Canon". The UberReview. 
  23. ^ [2] Archived 23 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Water Cannons". Raging Rapids.