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How to stay safe in open water

Open water swimming brings its own risks and dangers you should always address before you enter the water. While the goal is to have fun, you should always remember how to stay safe in open water.

It’s easy to forget something as you take the plunge for the first time. Think of these open water swimming questions as a preparation checklist.

If you can’t answer yes to all of them think twice about taking part.

  1. Do you know who you are swimming with?
    It can be dangerous to swim open water on your own. Always swim with someone and know who they are. It’s a good idea to get into open water with a friend.
  2. Do you know the weather conditions?
    Weather can play a huge part in the difficulty of open water swimming conditions. If you feel unsafe, don’t get in.
  3. Do you know the route you are taking?
    Seems like a fairly simple one but you MUST plan your route carefully and make sure someone else knows where you are going.
  4. Do you know where you will get in and out of the water?
    Again, this may not be your biggest worry but you should plan where you are entering and exiting the water.
  5. Have you practised swimming in your wetsuit?
    Wearing a wetsuit changes your swimming stroke slightly so it’s best to practice in a pool beforehand.
  6. Do you know the temperature of the water?
    Swimsuits keep you warm but the water will still be very cold. Get used to it slowly. If you feel your body getting too cold, get out.
  7. Do you know what you will eat before and after your swim?
    Exercise and cold water will sap your energy. Time your food for energy boosts.
  8. Do you have goggles and lubricant?
    Swimming in lakes, rivers and seas there is poor water visibility. Wear goggles. If you’re swimming in a group, tuck your goggle strap into your swim hat so they aren’t knocked out of position by accident. Lubricant isn’t essential but it’s a very useful for putting around the neck to avoid chaffing from your wetsuit.
  9. If you are swimming a loch, have you asked about weirs?
    Tide times are crucial to know when learning about the best times to swim in a loch. Be aware of rip currents and what to do if you become caught in one.

What to do in danger

Firstly always swim in an organised swim session where ever possible. They will have safety systems in place if you get in to difficulties. Speak to the organiser before the session to know what these systems are.

If you are not in an organised session, consider the following:

  • take a tow float and whistle with you on your swim. A tow float is a clear visual aid for rescuers, while a whistle will help you attract attention if you are in trouble
  • always swim in a group and have a means of calling for help (whistle, phone, vhf radio if possible). Ensure a responsible person knows your plan and when you think you will be home
  • float – if you are in trouble in the water, float until you feel calm and then think what to do next
  • call 999 or 112 – if you see someone else in trouble in the water call 999 or 112 immediately, know basic rescue techniques and basic life support.

What not to do in open water swimming

Don’t turn up to a venue without any prior research. Local knowledge is always the best knowledge when it comes to safety.

Find out if your venues is affected by rain or tides, or if there are any other hazards you should know.

Lastly, remember alcohol and swimming never mix, no matter how much fun it seems at the time. Impaired judgement leads to serious accidents and things go wrong even quicker when water is involved.

If you are ever in doubt stay out!