Open water swimming is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to water sports. It is adventurous, attractive and it carries the weight of conquering the unknown. Although extremely fun, open water swimming usually is one of the most unpredictable sports, so besides goodwill and readiness to explore the wilderness and start the adventure, it also requires some safety measurements to keep you safe and sound and lower the chances of anything bad happening to the lowest possible degree.
In this article, you’ll read about those safety tips and learn what to do to keep the level of fun at its maximum, while also remaining responsible not just to you, but to everyone else around you. This is especially important if you’re a newbie who’d just started a swimming career. So, here is a list of 10 essential tips when it comes to open water swimming safety.
1. Practice Until You Master It
You may feel like you’ve learned to swim, but there are lots of techniques you don’t know about that could be more than useful in open water swimming. And probably the best thing you could do is to visit your local pool and practice before you hit the open water. Once you manage to master the art of keeping yourself on the surface using the minimum of your energy, it is time to practice skills like:
- Sighting, as it is important to know what is going on around you, to see other swimmers, and, more important, vessels. Remember, swimming in the open water means there will be lots of waves, so learning how to look around you while in water will help you (along with the open water goggles)
- Bilateral breathing, also basically any other breathing technique you’ll learn in swimming lessons, will help you control your metabolism, and will help you stay calm as much as you can if something bad happens and you need to react.
- Freestyle technique is by far the best of the open water swimming, and learning how to properly do it will help you not just move faster, but also how to do it with the minimum effort, this way helping you preserve the much-needed energy.
2. Bring Someone With You
Open water swimming means you’ll possibly face lots of wildlife, and the water itself could be unpredictable. The best thing to do to help you with any kind of problem is to have someone with you. But be careful – if you bring someone to swim beside you, they’ll be in the same position as you, so it is questionable how helpful they can be if something goes wrong. Better options are a friend in a kayak, or even on a boat. If these three options are not possible, another one is to have someone walk the shoreline, and runs for help to the nearest marina if necessary.
3. Learn How The Currents Work
Currents are not something you should take on lightly. If misjudge them, you could end up caught in a rip current and pulled away from the shore. If this happens, don’t panic and stay as calm as possible. Currents are strong, they could not just pull you far away from the shore, but you could also end up underwater. To prevent this from happening, if you notice that you’re caught in a rip current, don’t swim towards the shore, but parallel to it. Once you notice you’re not being pulled anymore, it is time to turn toward the land and swim to the shore.
Some popular swim locations are famous for current strength, so gathering information should not be a problem, but just in case it is a good idea to visit the nearest marina and ask locals about the current nature, water condition and other needed information that will keep you safe.
4. Water Temperature Checkup
Knowing the water temperature is one of the most important parts of staying safe while swimming in the open water. While the swimming pools’ temperature is usually between 79 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the sea or the ocean could be far lower. Once it drops under 70 degrees, you’ll find it a lot harder to swim (you could read about the water temperature and how it affects your body here), or could even end up with hypothermia. If you don’t plan on taking a long swim, you should be OK even without a wetsuit. However, if you plan on staying in for a longer period of time, the best thing to do is to purchase a wetsuit, as it will keep you warm and comfortable, no matter how cold water is. And getting a diving computer could be helpful, too.
5. Make Sure The Weather Is Good
Before you hit the beach and start your session, make sure that the weather conditions are good. It is better to skip than to risk if the weather is bad because swimming during the bad weather is extremely unsafe. Wind can, for example, create big waves. If there was a storm, it could lower the water temperature and blur the water itself. Also, rough sea means the temperature could vary from wave to wave, which can be really unpleasant. If you see that the weather is getting worse, it is better to leave and come back some other time than to risk and get seriously injured.
6. Learn About Flora And Fauna
Swimming in the open water means you’re far more likely to run into some of the sea creatures than not. To avoid a possible bad experience, talk to the residents or the marina staff, and find out what you should expect during your swim. Are there dangerous species, is there reason to stay alert? If yes, they’ll tell you. If not, relax and have fun. But don’t forget, once you get into the water and swim away from the shore, you’re the intruder, so respect the water and respect its inhabitants. Don’t provoke, and stay calm, whatever happens. If you’re afraid of sharks, ask if there were any shark attacks. If there are, be careful, but don’t give up. As long as you’re careful and don’t provoke, you’ll be OK. There are more than 350 species of sharks, less than 10 are dangerous, so do the math and your homework.
Another aspect you should think about is bacteria. If there were rainstorms, rain may have caused the water to develop dangerous levels of bacteria, but this should not be a big problem and there is a really small chance you’ll have to postpone your adventure because of this.
7. Make A Plan
Don’t just hit the beach, jump into the water, and start to swim. The safest thing to do is to make a plan – whether you plan to swim from place to place, or just out, to the sea and come back. Make an approximate timeline. Before you start, take a walk on a shore, and get to know it. If you’re planning to get out on some other place, make sure it is possible to do so.
8. Make A Backup Plan
We’ve already talked about the possibility of unpredictable things happening, so it is recommended creating a „plan B“, which will contain the instructions if something bad, like weather conditions, sea creature attack, sickness or anything unpredicted happens, which will force you to change the original plan. If you have someone with you – ideally on a kayak or a boat – they could help you and get you back to the shore as soon as possible. And if you don’t have someone with you, swimming parallel to the shoreline could be essential in staying safe.
9. Meet The Lifeguards
If you’re planning to swim at the popular open water swimming location, you’ll probably meet lifeguards. Let them know what you’re doing, where are you going, etc. If something goes wrong, they’ll help you and save you. Also, they will let you know if some area is „of limits“, what to avoid, and other useful info, and will give you the latest updates on weather and currents.
10. Don’t Overdo!
Your body will let you know when it is enough and when it is time to head back to the solid ground. If you feel you can’t swim anymore, head back. And don’t worry, with enough practice, your sessions will become longer and longer. If the thought of open water scares you, stay by the shore and swim somewhere where lifeguards can see you until you gain enough experience and learn how to overcome problems. And if something wrong happens, at least it won’t be life-threatening.
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You’re ready to wet your feet and take on the open water? That’s great! As long as you don’t forget these 10 tips, you should be safe and have fun.