My top tips for swimming safely in open water

Mel Berry – Co-Founder Her Spirit and Level 2 Coach

As an indoor and outdoor swimming enthusiast it has been fantastic to witness the growth in open water swimming over the last few years. As Founder of Her Spirit, I am particularly pleased to see the rise in popularity for women. The recent trends report conducted by Outdoor Swimming magazine, shows an increase over the last 12 month from 65% to 73.5%. I swim weekly with lots of women at my local lake so it wasn’t a surprise to also see in the report that two thirds of female outdoor swimmers say it is hugely important to their general sense of wellbeing.

With more and more people taking to the water, it is vitally important that we all know where and how to swim safely. I always swim with friends as it is not only safer but far more fun and enjoyable. Here are my top tips on how to stay safe and enjoy the best that open water has to offer.

Plan where you are going and always try to find a lifeguarded area/venue. You can use a variety of websites and apps to help you find a venue near you. Here are just a few sites you can find suggestions

Pack warm clothes for afterwards that are easy to put on. Even in the depth of summer you may feel cold after getting out of the water.

Acclimatisation – Getting into open water is different to a swimming pool. In the summer months most locations won’t go above 20 degrees and this is usually about 10 degrees colder than your swimming pool. Take your time to get in and use your breathing as a great way to calm you down if you feel anxious. Entering water under 15°C can seriously impact your ability to breathe and move. If you get into the water too quickly or fall in unexpectedly, you may experience cold water shock. If this happens, fight your instinct to swim. Relax and float on your back until you can control your breathing and the shock passes. Then you can call for help.

Always check the weather and tides if you are swimming in the sea. The Met Office is a great source of information and remember it’s OK to change your plans if the weather changes.

Have the right kit

Wear a wetsuit – They can help you in many ways such as staying warm and can increase your buoyancy. This means you can stay in the water for longer. If a wetsuit if not for you then make sure you take time to get used to swimming in the water ways of the UK as they tend to not be that warm.

Wear a brightly coloured swimming hat and tow float when swimming – This means others can see you better and the tow float can act as an extra buoyancy aid if you need it. Strictly speaking tow floats are not a safety aid however that can prove a welcome aid to cuddle if you are struggling to control your breathing and your anxiety level rises. When open water swimming, you might also get tired more quickly than a pool. After all there is no side or lane rope to hang onto every 25 meters. If you do get very tired roll on to your back to rest and hold on to something that floats, like your tow float. Then you can signal for help if needed.

Pack a warm drink in a flask – this will help you to re-warm from the inside. If a hot day then some water or cold drink to make sure you are hydrated after your swim as we usually forget to drink when swimming.

Always take a way of communicating if you get into trouble. You can pack your mobile phone in a waterproof bag in your tow float. Always call 999 or 112 and ask for the emergency services or coastguard.

Finally, if you are looking for some open water swim buddies to double up with then why not join Her Spirit. We have a community of over 25,000 women who are doing a variety of activities in the outdoors including open water. Her Spirit is free to join the global community and your local group, and you can also access live streamed yoga, Pilates and strength classes.