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How to stay safe swimming outdoors

Swimming outdoors brings its own risks and dangers that you should always address before you enter the water.

While the goal is to have fun, you should always remember how to stay safe when swimming outdoors. It’s easy to forget something as you take the plunge for the first time.

Think of these outdoor swimming questions as a preparation checklist. If you can’t answer yes to all of them think twice about taking part.

Stop and Think – preparation is key

  1. Where are you swimming? Do you know about local dangers?
    Organised venues and groups are the best places to swim but you should still be aware of local dangers. At the coast be aware of tides, rip currents, off/cross-shore winds and the effect they have on your planned swim. Inland, currents, inflows and outflows can all cause problems.  In all locations, hidden obstacles, and sudden changes in depth can cause problems.
  2. Do you know the weather conditions?
    Weather can play a huge part in swimming outdoors. The wind can cause currents that drive you away from where you want to swim, it may also cause waves that make it hard to breathe or get in and out of the water, and cool you down after your swim.  Heavy rain can affect water quality and change currents so be aware of what the weather has been doing as well as what it will be doing while you are swimming.
  3. Do you know the route you are taking?
    Plan your route carefully taking into consideration the weather, tides and the ability of the people you are swimming with.  Once you have a plan make sure someone else knows where you are going.
  4. Do you know where you will get in and out of the water?
    You should plan where you are entering and exiting the water and have a backup plan of where to get out in an emergency.
  5. Do you know the temperature of the water?
    In water temperatures under 15c, cold shock is more pronounced. On entry it causes you to gasp followed by increasing your breathing and heart rate. You should get in slowly, and take 60 – 90 seconds to regain control of your breathing before putting your face in or swimming out of your depth. Wetsuits keep you warm but the water may still be very cold so get in carefully rather than running, jumping or diving.

Stay Together, it’s easier to get help and more fun

  1. Do you know who you are swimming with?
    It can be riskier to swim outdoors on your own. Preferably swim with an organised group or club or at a supervised location. It’s a good idea to swim outdoors with a friend.
  2. Tell someone your plan.
    Make sure you give someone on land an idea of where you are going and when you will be back, if you are driving there tell someone where you are parking your car.
  3. Keep an eye on your buddy.
    It’s important not to stay in for too long. If you feel your body getting too cold, get out. If your buddy’s stroke slows, loses power or becomes uncoordinated this is because their muscles are getting cold, if they struggle to speak (mumble) they should get out immediately before they are unable to swim.

If you get into trouble


If you fall in unexpectedly float on your back until cold water shock begins to pass, this could take 60 to 90 seconds.

If you tire or need help during your swim hold on to your tow float and signal for help by blowing your pealess whistle 3 times and placing one hand in the air to signal for assistance.

Call 999 or 112

If you see someone else in trouble in the water call 999 or 112 immediately, do not enter the water to help someone else, shout to encourage them to float and stay calm, throw them something that floats or a throwline.