People love to swim in the open water, especially when the sun’s out and the temperature is sky-high but you need to make sure you’re aware of the risks before heading into the water. In this article we'll be exploring everything you need to know about open water swimming, sharing some vital tips that should help keep you safe when it matters most.
Is it safe to swim in open water?
Children under the age of 16 should be supervised by an adult whenever they go into open water which means someone should keep an eye on them from the shoreline while they swim. If there isn’t anyone around who can do this then you shouldn’t allow your child to swim unsupervised as this could result in disaster if something goes wrong.
As an adult, you’re more than likely a strong swimmer and are fully capable of looking after yourself but that doesn’t mean you should go into any old open water without knowing what to expect first. If you're going to be swimming in the sea then make sure it's not too rough on the day as this can put your life at risk even if you're confident in your abilities!
Before you go
If you want to make sure your open water swimming experience is as safe and enjoyable as possible then there are a few things you should do before taking the plunge. Firstly, take the time to familiarise yourself with the area you’ll be swimming in - this way you can avoid any potential hazards such as deep water, currents or hidden objects.
Choose your spot
If you're going to be swimming in a lake then try and find out how deep it is before getting in; if it's too deep then it might not be safe for you to swim there. It's also important that you check for any signs of pollution which could make the water unsafe to swim in.
This is a really important point to consider as you’ll ideally want to be swimming somewhere that’s visited by others in case you get in trouble and need help, while it’ll also need to be accessible for emergency services should they be called. While you might want some time away from the busy tourist spots, they might be the ideal place for you to be swimming.
Have the right equipment
It’s really important that you have the right gear on you when you head into the water. While it might be a pain having to carry it all, these pieces of equipment can be genuinely life-saving and are definitely worth the initial investment. Many of these items will also last a good while, meaning you won’t need to keep replacing them every few months.
One of the most important items an open water swimmer can have on them is a good quality tow float as it helps keep you visible when in the water and can ensure you’re easy to spot. If you find yourself in trouble, the tow float will help draw the attention of passersby and help you get the help you need. Open water swimming safety is so important and having the right stuff will make sure you aren’t exposed to avoidable danger.
What do you do with your stuff when you open water swim?
A worry that many have when heading into the water is how to keep their valuables safe from others as well as the water. Prolonged exposure to water can render even the most waterproof of phones useless and so having a piece of kit to keep your things safe is super handy. For this, we’d recommend getting yourself a lightweight dry bag.
What is cold water shock?
While we might joke about how much of a shock being plunged into cold water can be, cold water shock is no laughing matter and can be fatal in minutes, never mind hours.
Even if the weather’s scorching, as it is now, the water can still be dangerously cold and can result in you being trapped in potentially life-threatening situations. Exposure to cold water will cause your blood vessels to contract, reducing blood flow and making your arms and legs less responsive, which can dangerous if you’re in deep water and on your own.
What do you define as cold water?
If you want to play it safe, you should treat all open water as cold water as you can still experience cold water shock even if the weather’s above 30 degrees celsius. The RNLI state that water below 15 degrees celsius is potentially dangerous and can result in cold water shock instantly, and because open water can be deceptively cold, it’s wise to play it safe here.
Open Water Safety Tips
Now we’re going to share with you some simple but valuable tips that should come in useful next time you're out in the open water. Every year we see people lose their lives because they underestimated how dangerous the water can be if you don’t take the necessary precautions and follow the best-practise advice.
Never swim alone
We cannot stress enough the importance of not swimming alone. There are many stories of people drowning because they’ve been caught out in unexpected currents or rip tides. If this happens while you're swimming alone, then your chances of surviving are slim to none as no one will know where you are or how long it has been since anyone last saw you in the water.
Check the weather and tides
Following on from that previous point, the weather and tides can play a huge part in how safe or dangerous the water is on any given day. If you’re unsure about conditions, then it’s always best to ask an expert before taking your chances and venturing into unknown waters. If you’re looking for advice online, there are a tonne of really great online groups and forums.
Know your limitations
There’s no shame in saying that you can’t do something and if people were more comfortable saying so, we’d almost certainly see far fewer water-related deaths every year. If you want to do something on the water but don’t quite feel up to it, set it as a target and try to gradually work your way up to it. You’ll get there, just don’t rush it and put yourself in danger.
Be prepared in case of emergency
While most people will never have a serious issue on the water, there’s still a chance that something bad could happen and so it’s vitally important that you’re ready to act. Make sure that you have all your essentials in your dry bag, including an emergency signal and something to store your contact details. It’s always best to prepare for the absolute worst.
Currents can be an invisible killer on the water and can change in an instant. While they can be almost impossible to predict, you should still try to learn as much about them as you can, as well as be aware of where they’ll most likely be strongest. The worst thing you can do if you get caught is to try and swim against it as you’ll soon tire yourself. Instead, call for help, stay afloat, and try to swim parallel to the shore if you feel comfortable doing so,
Be aware of the water quality
Water quality can be a big deal, even though you’ve never likely given it much thought before. Stagnant water is usually really harmful to your body if you ingest it due to the variety of water-borne bacteria that fester when there’s n supply of fresh water. If you do find yourself in the water this summer, try your best not to ingest any water and keep all cuts covered and ideally out of it entirely.
Check your surroundings
Be aware of what’s going on around you as it could actually save your life. As we mentioned before, manmade water points can be harmful if you ingest the water, but they can also be filled with harmful items. Many of these sites are disused quarries and at the bottom, it’s not uncommon to find old machinery which can be really dangerous if you come into contact.
If you find yourself in trouble the one thing you should do is stay calm. It’ll be tempting to flail your arms around in an effort to stay afloat and get attention drawn to you but this will soon tire you out and also raise your body temperature, increasing the likelihood of hyperthermia and your limbs losing mobility. Stay calm, call for help, and stay afloat. It’s that simple.