Summer is here and it looks like being another hot one. There’s nothing more refreshing than a cool dip on a sweltering hot day, but last year 20 Britons died as a result of swimming in quarries and other open water spots. Open water swimming can be invigorating but it can also be dangerous.
In fact, over the last decade open water (or wild swimming as it’s also known) has become increasingly popular as people try to reconnect with nature. Swimming in glorious settings, away from crowds and in water free from chlorine is not only inspiring, it’s also good for you as long as you proceed with caution.
Open water swimming does carry risks like many other sports, but you can minimise them with a little thought. Unlike a swimming pool, open water bodies have tides and currents to consider and the water temperature can vary tremendously so it’s important that you have an understanding of how you will cope and function with those elements.
Much of the advice given by the Outdoor Swimming Society seems like common sense but is all too easily forgotten on a hot summer’s day especially by youngsters out having fun and showing off to their friends.
First of all; don’t open water swimming alone. Make sure you have someone with you in case things go wrong and that you tell friends and family where you’re going and what time you expect to return home. Take a fully charged mobile phone too and be aware of your exact location especially if you’re taking a trip out into the wilds.
Check out the location before you go; ask local people about your proposed swimming area to see if it’s safe and look at the Outdoor Swimming Society map for advice on currents and general safety information for your chosen location. The website also gives information on water cleanliness and hygiene which is also a very important consideration.
Never swim when you’ve had too much alcohol. Your reactions are slower, your co-ordination may be impaired and you can easily lose all sense of caution and even direction if you venture too far away from the shore. Always swim before you’ve had lunch too. A full stomach can compromise your ability to swim.
Make sure you know the depth of the water and what’s likely to be lurking beneath the surface. Don’t just dive in head first; the water might only be a few feet deep and there could be sharp rocks or, tree branches or even discarded rubbish that you can’t see from above. It’s always better to find a spot where you can either wade in to a suitable swimming depth or slip in from the bank rather than jumping or diving. It might sound silly but always check that there’s a place you can get out of the water easily without assistance.
Don’t be tempted to swim across an open body of water to the other side. Distances can be deceptive from the shore and you might not be able to make it all the way across. Stick close to the shore line and swim modest distances to start off with, building up as you get fitter.
Remember that water temperatures in lakes, rivers and the sea are usually considerably lower than in heated swimming pools and this can come as a shock to the body, especially on a hot summer’s day. When the water is very cold, the blood rushes to the body’s core to protect the vital organs effectively rendering your arms and legs useless so that you can’t swim out of danger. This is one of the most common causes of drowning.
The best place to begin your wild swimming adventure is an inland beach on a lake or a river pool where the water is clear and runs to shallow. Check out the Outdoor Swimming Swimming Society information on your chosen spot and see if others recommend it. Follow the safety guidelines given above and take the plunge!