Whether you’re wanting to regularly go open water swimming and just taking a one off dip in the cool water on a hot day, you need to be aware of the dangers and how to keep yourself and those around you safe.
Following the steps in this blog and preparing for your swim will reduce the risks that come with being in open water. So you can just focus on enjoying your swim.
Is Swimming in Open Water Safe?
Naturally, swimming in open water is not as safe as swimming in your local indoor pool. However, open water swimming can be safe if you are sensible and follow the safety tips outlined below.
What are the Dangers of Open Water Swimming?
There are multiple things that can happen while you’re out in the water that could cause you to lose control and struggle to get back to shore. Not only can the weather and water conditions change very quickly, but you could also suffer cramp or fatigue while on your swim.
You need to be aware of the variety of hazards that could be in the water and prepare for how to deal with them. Hazards could include:
- Watercraft: Jet skis, boats, etc.
- Marine animals: Sharks, weaver fish, jellyfish, etc.
- Weeds and marine plants.
- Other swimmers.
- Debris: Logs etc.
Swimming in open water also comes with risks of illness and infection from:
- Toxic algae.
Swimming in open water is cold. This can affect your ability to move and breathe and has health risks like:
- Cold water shock.
Our Open Water Swimming Safety Tips:
One of the main ways to stay safe in the water is to have the right equipment with you. The safety equipment we recommend includes:
- Tow float/dry bag: This helps others see you in the water (the brighter the better). It will also act as a buoyancy support in an emergency.
- Bright swim cap: Making you visible in the water to others (including boats, swimmers, and rescue teams).
- Wetsuit: Letting in a small amount of water that quickly warms up, wetsuits create a barrier between your body and the cold open water.
- Light and whistle: Making it easy to attract attention if you need help.
- Ear plugs, nose clip and goggles: Protecting you from any pollutants and bacteria in the water.
- Waterproof phone case: So you can bring your phone on your swim to call for help in an emergency. Remember that your phone will still try to connect you to emergency services when you call 999, even if you don’t have a signal.
Choosing the right location for your open water swim is also important. We recommend always swimming at a beach or open water swimming location that is supervised by lifeguards. This ensures that if you get into trouble, you can signal for help and rescuers can get to you quickly.
If you do decide not to swim at a supervised location, always tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back from your swim. This means that if you don’t return, someone will know where to send help to look for you.
Wherever you go to swim, always look out for no swimming signs. These signs are there for a reason and need to be respected.
While deciding on your swim location, you should also research any potential hazards that you might come across. Some things to consider:
- Will there be any jellyfish at this beach at this time of year?
- Is there a specific swimming area or an area I should avoid at this open water venue?
- What is the current water quality at this location?
Water and Weather Conditions
Once you’ve decided where and when to swim, check the weather forecast to ensure the weather will stay calm throughout your swim. Although it is useful to check the forecast, the weather can still be unpredictable so be prepared to head back to land if the weather begins to worsen.
It is also important to check the water conditions and any ripides or rip currents that you could come across. Knowing how to get out of difficulty in these situations is vital. Here are the main things you should remember:
- The current is stronger than you. Swimming against the current (directly towards shore) will just waste your energy.
- If you are in the shallows, stand up and walk out of the current.
- If you cannot stand, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the riptide or rip current.
- If you need a moment to calm down or rest, roll onto your back and float before trying again to signal for help and get out of the difficult area of water.
Awareness of your Surroundings
Before heading into the water at your swimming location, we recommend doing a few checks first.
- Make sure there aren’t any no swimming signs.
- Check to see if you can see any hazards in the water.
- Make sure you know where you can safely exit the water. Trying to get out of the water in muddy areas or somewhere with steep slopes can be difficult. If there isn’t a safe exit point, don’t get in the water.
To avoid health risks due to the cold water temperature, there are two things to remember. Firstly, the colder the water, the less time you should spend in the water. This will reduce the risk of hypothermia and afterdrop.
Second, never jump into cold water. Being suddenly submerged in cold water can cause your body to go into shock, resulting in difficulty breathing and moving. Instead, you should always slowly acclimatise yourself to the water temperature by slowly walking into the water.
If you happen to accidentally fall into cold water, don’t panic. You need to fight your urge to try and swim and instead roll onto your back. Floating on your back gives your body time to get over the initial shock and gives you time to calm down and control your breathing. It will then be easier for you to call for help.
Overall, swimming in open water does have its risks. But it also has great benefits that you don’t have to miss out on just because of the risks. Follow the steps we’ve outlined and you can safely enjoy your open water swim.Want to start getting ready for your open water swim safely? Check out our safety equipment today.