Open water swimming has some great benefits to both mental and physical health. However, it does have its dangers. Planning your swim and being prepared for these dangers reduces the risks, so you can just enjoy your swim and reap the benefits.
Is Swimming in Open Water Safe?
Yes, if you take safety precautions. Swimming in open water has more dangers than swimming in your local indoor pool. However, if you follow the safety tips outlined in this blog then these dangers are greatly reduced.
The key to safe open water swimming is research, planning, preparation and awareness.
What are the Dangers of Open Water Swimming?
Swimming in open water is very different to swimming in your local pool. Not only can weather and water conditions change very quickly, putting you in danger, but fatigue and cramp can also affect your ability to swim and safely get out of the water.
There are many hazards in open water that could cause injury. You need to be aware of your surroundings and prepared in case you come across these hazards in the water. Hazards include:
- Debris (logs etc.).
- Weeds and underwater plants.
- Watercraft (boats etc.).
- Other swimmers.
- Animals (jellyfish, weaver fish, sharks etc.).
When you swim in open water, the water will not be sterile and may have dangerous contaminants. Some bodies of water will be cleaner and safer than others but swimmers always need to be aware of the risks of illness and infection from:
- Toxic algae.
Depending on your swim location and the time of year, swimming in open water can be very cold. This can make it more difficult to breathe and move in the water as well as posing various health risks including:
- Cold water shock.
Our Top Safety Tips for Open Water Swimming:
All of these risks are very serious and can be off putting. But you shouldn’t rule out trying open water swimming as these risks can be greatly reduced by just following the below safety tips.
It’s important to have the right equipment with you on your swim to protect you and assist you should an emergency occur. The main safety equipment we recommend:
- Wetsuit - Wearing a wetsuit creates a barrier of warmer water between your body and the cold open water.
- Brightly coloured dry bag/tow float - In an emergency you can use your dry bag or tow float for some extra buoyancy. It will also make you more visible in the water for rescue teams, watercraft, and other swimmers.
- Bright swimming cap - Providing you with extra visibility in the water.
- Nose clip, ear plugs and goggles - Creating a barrier to protect you from any bacteria, pollutants or parasites in the water.
- Whistle and light - To attract attention to yourself in an emergency.
- Waterproof phone case - In an emergency it’s useful to be able to call for help. Even if you don’t have a signal, your phone might still be able to connect to 999.
Choosing a Safe Location
To choose a safe location for your swim, you need to do your research.
We recommend always swimming at a lifeguard supervised location. This could be swimming between the red and yellow flags on a lifeguarded beach or swimming at a specific supervised open water swimming venue.
Swimming at a non-supervised location is allowed (as long as there aren’t any no swimming signs) but the risks are higher so you would need to be extra careful. It would be useful to inform someone of where you’re going to swim and what time you will be back so they can get help if you don’t return by that time.
Choosing a safe location also involves researching any potential dangers you could come across. Useful questions to research would be things like:
- How likely am I to come across a jellyfish off this beach at this time of year?
- Are there any designated areas in the water for swimming or any specific areas to avoid?
- Is the water quality currently good enough to swim in?
Weather and Water Conditions
Changes in weather and water conditions while you’re out on your swim can put you in danger. Although changes are sometimes unpredictable, it is useful to check the weather forecast so you can plan your swim for the best weather and reduce your chances of getting caught in stormy or bad weather.
Even if you’ve checked the weather forecast and the duration of your swim is predicted to be good weather, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for any changes. If you do notice that the weather has worsened while you’re in the water, safely exit the water.
You also need to be aware of any riptides and rip currents and how to escape if you get caught in one. Here are the main things to remember:
- Do not swim directly towards the shore. The current will be stronger than you and swimming against the current will just tire you out without getting you anywhere.
- Roll onto your back for a moment if you need a quick rest or need a moment to calm down.
- If you can stand up, do so and wade out of the riptide or rip current.
- To escape (while out of your depth), swim parallel to the shore.
Be Aware of your Surroundings
Once you’ve chosen and arrived at your swim location, there are a few safety checks you need to do before getting in the water:
- Can you see any no swimming signs, any hazards or any areas to avoid? Check this before entering the water as well as keeping an eye out for any changes throughout your swim.
- Before getting into the water, find a safe place where you can easily exit the water, avoiding steep slopes and muddy areas.
The cold temperature of open water can have risks for your health. To reduce the risks of hypothermia and afterdrop, the colder the water you’re swimming in, the less time you should spend in the water.
Another main risk is cold water shock. Suddenly being submerged in cold water can cause your body to go into shock, making it harder for you to breathe and move. For this reason (as well as not being able to see if there are any hazards under the water), you should never jump straight into cold water.
Instead, you should slowly wade into the water giving your body time to acclimatise to the cold temperature.
If you accidentally fall into the water and go into cold water shock, you need to fight your natural urge to swim. Instead, roll onto your back and give yourself some time to regain control of your breathing and to allow the initial effects of the shock to wear off. You can then signal for help.
Overall, although open water swimming does have its risks, it can be safely enjoyed by following the tips in this blog. The main thing to take away with you is to research, prepare and remain aware of your surroundings throughout your swim.
Get started today by checking out our open water swimming safety equipment.