Swimming in open water is very different than swimming in a pool. Open water environments like lakes and oceans do not have lane ropes, a flat bottom and walls to latch onto. Because of its unique setting, swimmers must be aware of open water swimming safety. By following a few tips and techniques, swimmers should be safe while swimming in the open water.

Keep these open water safety tips in mind while swimming in open water:

  • Do Not Swim Alone – It is best if you have a partner follow you in a boat or a kayak when you swim in open water or even swim with you. Without walls or line ropes, you do not have anything to grab if you get injured or have a cramp. With someone close by, help is near in case of emergency. If you cannot have someone with you in a boat, then you can have someone follow you on shore. If you are alone, make sure you tell the lifeguard your swimming plans. The more people who know where you are and where you plan to be, will help others find you in case something goes wrong.
  • Stay Close to the Shore – Swimming parallel to the shore will help your partner on shore and lifeguards keep an eye on you. Swimming close to shore will also keep you in designated swim areas and away from motorboats. Motorboat users have a difficult time seeing swimmers in open water, so staying close to shore will keep you out of range of motorboats.
  • Know the Area and Your Route – Open water swimming can be unpredictable. Before you swim in open water, you should know the temperature of the water, the weather conditions, the water’s natural inhabitants, and the currents. If the water is too cold, hypothermia is a possible risk. Rain and wind can interfere with swimming conditions and increase the chance of harming the swimmer. Plant life, bacteria, and aquatic animals can obstruct a swimmer’s progress. If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel with the beach until you reach calm waters.
  • Practice Sighting – Navigation is different when you swim in open waters. You have to use buoys and landmarks to keep you on your route. Lifting your head periodically will help you keep swimming in the right direction. Don’t panic if you don’t see your marker. Sometimes waves will block your line of sight. Practice sighting regularly will help you navigate while open water swimming.
  • Use the Right Equipment – Using a bodysuit or wetsuit protects swimmers from the cold. Bright swim caps allow others to easily spot swimmers. Swim goggles and ear plugs provide extra protection. Floatation devices can help swimmers stay safe. Life vests, floatation rings, and other floatation devices are available for open water swimmers. The ISHOF has a SafeSwimmer float; the device is bright orange, which allows spotters to see a swimmer, attaches to the swimmer’s waist, is pulled behind the swimmer without decreasing speed, and be used to store personal items, and can be used as a floatation aid in case of emergency.

Other tips include swimming on your back in case you need to catch your breath, staying in the back on of the sides of a group if you are swimming with a group and are not a strong swimmer, and remaining calm. In case anything happens to go wrong, remaining calm will conserve energy and keep you safe longer. Keeping these open water safety tips in mind when you swim will make open water swimming an enjoyable experience.