Swim Secure’s Open Water Swimming Safety Guide
For many, swapping lanes for lakes can be daunting, but with some simple safety steps the delights of the great outdoors are closer than you think.
Temperature – For dedicated pool bunnies the major difference will be the temperature. While not as warm as a pool – open water generally varies between 15 to 20 degrees in summer (this of course varies throughout the world) – don’t be put off by the cold.
Swimwear – You may want to use a specially designed swimming wetsuit that will keep you warm, help with buoyancy and allow you to use your natural stroke unhindered. Many swimmers enjoy the more traditional method of a standard swim suit, giving themselves time to acclimatise to the water.
Where to swim – You can open water swim in rivers, lakes and the sea. There are dedicated open water swimming venues and patrolled sections of beach that offer the reassurance of a lifeguard watching out for you. Many open water venues offer induction and training sessions for newbies, after all open water swimming is one of the fastest growing sports globally.
If you are not swimming in a patrolled area, make sure you always swim with a buddy and that people know what time to expect you back. Plan your swim before you leave and take into account currents and tides. When trying to find a location to swim it’s a good idea to find other open water swimmers from the area. There are a lot of Facebook open water swimming groups as well as clubs and social groups. Local knowledge is so important while trying to find a good safe swim spot and you may find some fellow swimmers to tag along with.
Be safer be seen in the water – Being visible is very important in open water when there are other water users. A brightly coloured hat is essential, and an inflatable tow float/dry bag pulled behind you on a short leash gives a clear signal that there is a swimmer in the water. The tow float also has the added advantage of taking your weight if you need to rest during your swim, and some models like dry bags keep your kit safe while you swim.
Entering the water – Enter the water slowly and let your body acclimatise. Getting into cooler water too quickly can result in reduced blood flow to your limbs and an automatic increase in your breathing rate. Jumping in might seem like fun but you risk cold water shock and hitting objects under the surface by not getting in gradually. Always start with short swims and increase the length of your swims over time as you become more experienced and tolerant of the conditions.
When to end your swim – You should end your swim if you start to get cold or you feel yourself tiring. Both are signs that your core temperature could be dropping. Beware of “after drop”. Make sure you have some warm clothes waiting for you on shore as you will get colder once you exit the water as blood returns to your cooler extremities. A hot drink at the end of a swim is a great idea but avoid alcohol as this will cause you to lose heat.
The health benefits of open water swimming have long been suspected, from Victorians gathering in their bathing machines to the lido boom of the early twentieth century. Now science is starting to back up the anecdotal evidence with studies that suggest that there are lasting positive effects of a bracing outdoor dip.
To read all the benefits of open water swimming click here.
Great Gear For a Safe Swim