How to Swim Safely in Open Water

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Taking a dip in any open water comes with its dangers. Whether it’s a quick splash to cool off on a hot summer’s day, to get some exercise, or to train for an open water swimming event, you need to be aware of how to be safe in the open water.

Is it Safe to Swim in Open Water?

In many locations it is safe to swim in open water as long as you’re following the safety precautions outlined in this blog. If you know what dangers you might come across and are prepared to safely deal with them, then the risks associated with open water swimming are greatly reduced. This allows you to just enjoy your swim and reap the great mental and physical benefits of being in the water.

What are the Dangers of Swimming in Open Water?


Swimming in open water is more strenuous than swimming in your local pool. Weather conditions, water conditions, and currents can change quickly. Fatigue and cramp are also risks which could affect your ability to safely return to land.


When open water swimming, you are swimming in the wild. Depending on where you swim, there will be different hazards you might come across and these hazards might not always be visible under the water. These might include:

  • Debris - logs etc.
  • Watercraft - boats, jet skis, canoes etc.
  • Marine animals - Jellyfish, sharks, weaver fish etc.
  • Other swimmers.
  • Underwater plants.


Open water isn’t chemically treated. This puts swimmers at risk of getting infections and illnesses from:

  • Bacteria.
  • Pollution.
  • Toxic algae.


The cold temperature of the water can make it harder to swim in open water and can have dangers to your health including:

  • Hypothermia.
  • Cold water shock.
  • Afterdrop.

Open Water Swimming Safety Tips:

Although these dangers are scary and need to be taken very seriously, with proper planning, knowledge, and preparation, these dangers can be greatly reduced. Allowing you to safely enjoy your swim with the peace of mind that you’re ready in case of an emergency.

Here are our top safety tips to help you plan and prepare for your open water swim:


Using safety equipment when open water swimming can be a matter of life and death. Here is the main equipment you need to stay safe:

  • Wetsuit - To provide a barrier between your body and the cold water.
  • Bright swim cap - So other swimmers, watercraft and rescue teams can see you.
  • Bright tow float or dry bag - To make you more visible and to provide some buoyancy in an emergency.
  • Goggles, ear plugs and nose clip - To protect you from any infections, parasites or bacteria in the water.
  • Light or whistle - To attract attention in an emergency.
  • Waterproof phone case - To allow you to use your phone in the water to call for help. Even if you don’t have a signal, your phone will try to connect when you dial 999.

Research your Location

Choosing a safe location requires you to do your research before heading out for your swim. 

The safest places to swim in open water are beaches and bodies of open water which are supervised by lifeguards and regularly checked and used for open water swimming.

Non-supervised bodies of open water come with more risks. You should be especially wary of quarries and reservoirs which can be very deep and cold, as well as rivers and beaches with strong currents and riptides.

It is important to research your swim location and check for no swimming signs. The signs are there for a reason meaning these locations are not safe to swim at.

When researching your location it’s also important to find out what hazards could be at that location and make a plan of how to deal with these hazards. For example, how likely are you to come across a jellyfish off your chosen beach at that time of year? Are there any areas to avoid in the water due to stronger currents, watercraft or weeds? And is the water quality currently safe enough to swim in?

Once you’ve chosen your swim location, let someone know where and when you will be swimming. This means that if you aren’t back on time, they can arrange for help to find you.

Weather and Water Conditions

Always check what the predicted weather and water conditions are for the duration of your swim. Even if the weather and water is predicted to be calm throughout your swim, this can quickly change. Therefore, it’s important to stay aware of any changes you notice during your swim and be prepared for how to deal with a sudden change. 

Remember: It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if in doubt, safely get out of the water.

It’s also important to understand and be prepared for rip currents and riptides in case you accidentally find yourself in the middle of them. Here are some useful tips:

  • Don’t swim against the current. The current will be stronger than you and you will waste vital energy.
  • If you get tired or need a moment to calm down, rest by floating on your back.
  • If you’re in your depth, stand up and wade out of the current.
  • If you’re out of your depth, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.

Check your Environment

Once you’ve researched and chosen your safe swim location and have arrived for your swim, we recommend you do a few checks before entering the water:

  • Check for any visible hazards like floating logs or watercraft.
  • Identify an area that will be safe for you to easily get out of the water, avoiding muddy or steep areas.

Water Temperature

Open water is much colder than the water in your local swimming pool. The colder the water, the less time you should spend in the water to avoid risks to your health.

Never jump straight into open water. Not only could there be hazards under the water that you can’t see, but being suddenly submerged in cold water can cause you to go into shock. Once in cold water shock, you will find it harder to move and breathe, causing most people to panic, which in turn makes the situation worse. 

To avoid cold water shock, it’s important to acclimatise to the cold water by taking your time and getting into the water slowly. 

If you do happen to fall into the water and go into cold water shock, you need to fight your urge to swim and instead roll onto your back. This will give your body time to get over the initial shock and you can get your breathing under control. You can then call for help.


Overall, open water swimming is a great form of exercise with great benefits. It can be safely enjoyed with the right equipment, research, and preparations for any dangers that could come up. 

So what are you waiting for? You can start preparing today by checking out our safety equipment.

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