Open water swimming, what’s the deal?

The benefits of swimming, or going for a dip in open water are well documented, for both your physical and mental health.. but so are the hazards. Around 85% of accidental drownings occur at open water sites and most of these drownings are down to a lack of knowledge and understanding of open water safety.

I enjoyed a swim in Windermere on Sunday. I’m relatively new to open water swimming, more so over the last 12 months. I’ve swam in Windermere, coastal swimming in the Scottish Highlands and various places in Devon. It’s exhilarating!

It’s important to make sure you are prepared and enjoy open water swimming safely. Some of the best advice I’ve received from experienced open water swimmers, and resources from The Royal Life Saving Society include;

  • Do research on each place you swim. There could be hidden dangers like strong currents, hidden debris, weeds, and pollutants, or risks from boat traffic. There are a number of Facebook groups with experienced open water swimmers who will be able to provide advice on different swimming spots and their suitability.
  • Have the right equipment, don’t feel pressured into swimming in ‘skins’ if you feel more comfortable using a wetsuit. Visibility is important, you may need to wear additional brightly coloured swim wear or hat, or use a tow float.
  • Plan your day. Take into account currents and tides.
  • Take a friend with you, or use a spotter from the shore. There are also designated venues with lifeguard provision. Even the most experienced swimmers can get cramp, so having a friend with you is important if you get into difficulties.
  • Enter the water slowly and let your body acclimatise to the water temperature.
  • Know your own limits, if you start to feel cold or tired, exit the water. This is a sign your core body temperature is dropping. Start with shorter swims closer to shore and increase the length of your swims as you become more experienced.
  • Know how to stay safe and get help. There are a number of open water swimming safety courses running across the country, and The Royal Life Saving Society have an online course available (details below).
  • Have warm clothes for after the swim, even if it’s a hot day.
  • Take plenty of fluids and snacks with you. A Hot drink is ideal after a swim.
  • Light exercise following a swim can help blood flow and maintain core body temperature.

With open water swimming popularity surging over the last year, it’s more important than every to ensure everyone has access to information to ensure you enjoy water safely.

The Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) advises that these hazards can be controlled through having knowledge and understanding of the hazards along with proper organisation and planning.

RLSS advise the follow risks to consider in open water;

  • The shock of cold water can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty in getting out of the water
  • Lack of safety equipment and increased difficulty for rescue
  • The height of the fall or jump if tombstoning
  • The depth of water – this changes and is unpredictable
  • Underwater objects and hazards may not be visible
  • Obstacles or other people in the water
  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away
  • Uneven banks and river beds
  • Water quality, e.g toxic algal blooms and industrial/agricultural pollution

The RLSS #BePrepard hub has everything you need to enjoy open water safely this summer including an online course: rlss.org.uk/pages/category/open-water-safety-tips

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