Safety Tips for Open Water Swimming
Swimming in open water can be dangerous. If you are aware of and manage the risks, though, you will have many successful open water adventures. Here are 10 essential guidelines to help you do just that.
If you have never been in open water before, or if you are new to a body of water, make sure you know everything you should before getting your feet wet.
Obviously, it’s best to learn how to swim in the relative calm of your local pool. That’s a good place to start learning three key open water swimming skills: sighting, bilateral breathing, and a “choppy-water” freestyle.
Let’s start with the obvious: Never swim in open water by yourself. Having a fellow swimmer is one way to fulfill this most-basic safety measure, but they will be of little help if you encounter an unexpected current or creature of the deep. Better than a fellow swimmer is a friend in a kayak or a power boat. Know only land-lubbers? Have someone walk the shoreline with you, if water and weather conditions allow it. If disaster strikes, this person can go for help.
How to escape a rip current: If you are swimming and suddenly find the shoreline getting farther and farther away, you are caught in a rip current: a channel of water flowing away from the shore. If you want to make it back to shore, the only thing to do is swim PARALLEL with the shore. Once you are out of the rip current, you can turn toward land and swim to solid ground.
Swiftly moving water can pull you astray, potentially miles off-shore, off-target, or even underwater. In many popular open water swim locations, currents are infamous for their strength and speed. In other places, you may need to do some asking around to find out about water conditions, which can change hourly.
Find out what creatures you are likely (or even unlikely) to encounter on your swim. Research if the bay is home to any sharks (some sharks are completely harmless to humans), jellyfish, or nettles.
Sharks don’t want to eat you: Many people cite a "fear of sharks" as the main reason they don't swim in open water. The truth is that your odds of being killed by a shark are very, very, very small. While there are over 350 kinds of shark, fewer than 10 have been involved in a significant number of attacks on humans. And many of those attacks were either provoked or a case of mistaken identity.
Think little too: find out if there are unacceptable levels of bacteria. Many beaches are actually closed to swimming after rainstorms because of dangerous levels of bacteria that arrive with the stormwater runoff. Make a mental plan for what you can do if you encounter any of the local wildlife.
Always remember the number one rule of open water swimming: never, ever swim alone. If you keep to these 10 safety tips, you should have fun, empowering open water swims.