Be Water Aware - Outdoor swimming


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Spending time in and around water is fantastic fun and great for wellbeing and mental health.  In recent years there has been a real interest and uptake of open water or wild water swimming as it is sometimes known. Some figures suggest an increase of 60% in the last two years.

Open water swimming is safe if you take the right precautions and use the right locations.

Experienced open water swimmers have a vast amount of knowledge about swimming in open water and are educated to do so.  People who swim in open water infrequently – say on holiday or on the few hot days we have each year need to be informed of the risks of swimming in open water.

The advice to people who are not experienced open water swimmers is to be prepared and understand the risks of open water swimming. You can quickly find yourself out of your depth and suffering the effects of cold water shock which can impact your ability to swim.

If after lockdown you are thinking this could be something for you, then take a look at our advice.

  • Join an open water swimming group. If you are new to open water swimming you should take the time to learn about it. We suggest joining an open water swimming group. They will be able to offer advice and support, whether it’s learning how to acclimatise to the water or the kit you need, which should include a whistle, bright hat and tow float. Open water or wild swimming groups are the experts and can help.
  • Go at your own pace. Whether you want to swim outdoors to relax or you are up for a competitive swim then make sure that you are confident in your abilities when swimming outdoors, remember it is very different to swimming in a pool. You should be a strong swimmer in a pool before you progress to open water.
  • Choose the right spot. There are lots of designated places where you can swim outdoors. Do your research and look for swimming locations suitable for the type of swim you want to do, if you want a short swim don’t pick a location suitable for an endurance swim. You will need to make sure you are aware of details such as tide times, rip currents, weirs and the weather forecast. Some designated swim spots may have lifeguards and signposted information. If there are signs asking you not to swim, then don’t swim.
  • Double check how you will enter and leave the water. Don’t jump in. This can cause Cold Water Shock. This is the body’s natural reaction when we enter water, this doesn’t have to mean freezing cold water. It can cause us to gasp for breath, rapid breathing (hyperventilation) and muscle cramps and weakness which can affect our ability to swim.   It’s best to enter the water by walking in. Not only does this mean you have a safe route in and out of the water, but it is a safer way to enter if you are unsure of the depth or temperature of the water.
  • Alcohol and water don’t mix. Alcohol can impair your judgement and it can also affect your coordination. This can increase the likelihood of an incident and your affect ability to respond to that incident.
  • Don't swim alone. It is much safer to have people with you, so don’t swim alone. Look out for people you are swimming with, and make sure you know how to respond in an emergency.
  • Check the forecast - avoid swimming when conditions might be unpredictable or when water levels are high or currents are strong. 
  • Warm up after your swim -  Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and a warm drink for after your swim. It is important to warm yourself up carefully.

See this advice, which applies to coastal and inland waters from RNLI:

What to do in an emergency

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If you get into difficulty

If you find you are in difficulty when open water swimming, stay calm, control your breathing. Float onto your back, extending arms and legs into a star shape. Call for help or if you are able to try to gently swim to safety.

 Open Water Swimming Guidelines Safety Leaflet (PDF)