With lockdown restrictions starting to ease this week, outdoor swimming venues are allowed to reopen and we can travel outside our local area for exercise. It’s great news for swimmers and triathletes who are desperate to get back into the water after an extended break. However, swimming in open water is not without risk, so it’s important to take precautions and stay safe.
Never swim alone
This should be obvious, but you should never swim alone. Always go with a buddy so you have someone looking out for you in case you get into trouble in the water.
A designated open water swimming venue is the safest environment to swim, as they will have lifeguards and safety crew to oversee the swimmers. However, if you are going to the sea, a river or lake make sure you do not go alone- even if you take a friend to watch from the shore.
Check the weather, tides and temperature
Weather conditions can create additional risks when swimming in open water. There are lots of different factors to consider and conditions can be so changeable especially on the coast- wind speed and direction, whether the tide is coming in or going out, air temperature. Ultimately, if you do not feel safe with the conditions you are presented with, do not get into the water.
At this time of year, the water temperature is still very cold. Cold water swimming is definitely exhilarating and invigorating but does come with risks including cold water shock and hypothermia. Take your time when getting into the water, splash the water on your face and neck and let your breathing regulate.
Use the right kit
Tow floats are designed to be a visual aid to enable other water users to see you easily. They are an inflatable bag in a bright colour such as orange or yellow, which are towed behind you from a waist strap and leash, out of the range of your arms and legs. They are not designed to be lifesaving aids, but you can lean against them if you need to stop for a rest during your swim.
A brightly coloured swimming hat also helps to increase your visibility in the water.
Wetsuits are a personal choice but are highly recommended for temperatures below 18-20 degrees. Not only will it provide extra warmth, but it will also increase buoyancy, helping to keep you on top of the water and making it easier to swim.
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Know your route and entry/exit points
Plan your entry and exit points into the water so that you can get in and out easily, especially if there is a current. Look for an entry/exit point that avoids any obstacles. Never jump or dive into the water- walk in or lower yourself gradually from the pontoon/dock to allow yourself to acclimatise.
Know the route that you will swim. If it’s a designated venue, the course should be marked out with buoys. If it’s the sea then swimming backwards and forwards between the groynes following the shoreline and staying as close to the shore as possible.
More tips to stay safe swimming in open water
- Stay alert while swimming. Be aware of other water users (boats, other swimmers). If swimming at a designated venue, the lifeguards might use a whistle to attract attention if someone gets into difficulty- listen out for these signals while in the water.
- Have warm clothes and a hot drink ready for after your swim.
- Alcohol and swimming don’t mix! Never go swimming if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
- Look for signs and information- if a sign says ‘no swimming’, don’t swim there!
- Mostly have fun and enjoy your swim!
Post written in collaboration with Drybags