Open Water Safety: How to Swim Safe (And Still Have Fun)

There’s nothing quite like taking a dip in invigorating open water to satisfy your inner adventurer and make you feel happy to be alive. So it may be a shock to learn that 85% of accidental drownings occur at open water sites.

It’s a sobering statistic, but there’s no need to pack up your passion for wild swimming. Arm yourself with the following open water safety tips from the Royal Life Saving Society, then go forth, swim safe and enjoy yourself.

1.Observe the water safety signs

Rock up to a mirror-flat wild swimming spot and find a ‘No swimming’ sign amongst the picturesque foliage and you might be tempted to ignore it. Don’t. Water safety warnings don’t always relate to obvious dangers such as currents or fast-flowing water – often risks may lie elsewhere, such as polluted water or a sudden drop in the lake, loch, or quarry shelf. Open water conditions change constantly, which is why the RLSS advise never to swim at unsupervised (non-lifeguarded) sites.

Tip: Indulge your love of outdoor swimming by joining a like-minded swimming group. You may find local groups are more familiar with the risks at lesser-known swimming spots.

2. Avoid fast-flowing water

Currents can be deceptive – that harmless-looking river may flow faster than you realise. If you’ve underestimated the strength of the current, swim parallel with the shore (not away from it), so you can quickly get to safety if needed. And never let yourself drift in the current.

3. Don’t ‘tombstone’

The thrill of the leaping off a bridge into unknown waters isn’t worth the risk. Not only can the depth of the water change and the water bed be unpredictable, but submerged objects and other obstacles (including other people, if it’s busy!) may not be visible.

Hankering for a water-based adrenaline fix? Contact a reputable outdoor pursuits or coasteering centre – they’ll help you get your ‘extreme’ on, safely. And you may still get to make a jump or two!

4. Buddy up

Swimming is double the fun when you bring a friend! Swim safe by adding a plus-one to your swim, so you can help each other if needed. And if you’re heading out solo? Always tell friends and family when and where you plan to swim, and take your mobile phone with you.

5.Don’t get caught out by the cold

The shock of cold, open water can make swimming difficult and exiting the water a struggle, so get out as soon as you start to feel cold, and never jump in until you’ve acclimatised to the water temperature.

6. Boating? Fishing? Pack a buoyancy aid

Always wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket for activities on and near the water or at the water’s edge, such as boating or fishing

7. Know how to help others

Spotted someone in difficulty in the water? Shout reassurance to them, yell for help from passers-by and call the emergency services (999 or 121). Without endangering yourself, try to reach out to them with a stick, pole or item of clothing – lie down to ensure you stay secure. Alternatively, throw something buoyant to them, such as a ring buoy or anything else you can find that floats.

SPEEDO TIP: Get wise, then get swimming!

If you take on the water safety tips above, it’s perfectly possible to continue indulging your love of open water or wild swimming.

Top open water safety rules

  • Swim at supervised (lifeguarded) sites
  • Research your swimming spot for tides, currents and other hazards
  • Never swim after drinking alcohol
  • Leave the water as soon as you start to feel cold
  • Swim with a friend, and let friends and family know where and when you’re swimming
  • Observe ‘no swimming’ signs and never swim where it is prohibited
  • Do not enter fast-flowing water



Writer and expert