Water safety has always been incredibly important to the Michael Jamieson Swim Academy, safety and personal survival are skills that we continue to teach in our classes. Unfortunately, swimming in open water does come with certain dangers and so this blog post focuses on the steps you can take to swimming safely in open water and what you can do should you end up in a dangerous situation!
Safe Swimming & Hidden Dangers
- The safest open water swimming spots are lifeguarded/supervised beaches and outdoor pools. However, a lot of beaches within the UK are not supervised so you need to be aware of the dangers yourself.
- Be aware that open water can be very cold and can cause cold water shock. Cold water shock makes it difficult for you to control your breathing, stay calm and hold your head above the water.
- To limit yourself from cold water shock you can wear a wetsuit and enter the water slowly to allow your body to become used to the cold water over time! You should float on your back and focus on controlling your breathing and keeping your head above the water while your body gets used to the temperature, this can take up to 3 minutes!
- Bodies of water such as lochs and rivers can be deceptively deep and fast flowing. You should always get to know the location that you will be swimming and follow local safety advice, for example, if the advice is not to swim in the area then don’t.
- Wearing a life jacket or buoyancy aid such as a brightly coloured tow float will help you to stay afloat if you end up out of your depth and can also allow other people to see that you are struggling and take the necessary steps to help you!
- Always let someone know where you are going to be swimming and when you will be back. Make sure that you have the means to contact someone if you end up in trouble.
- Swimming parallel to the shore rather than further out to sea means that you have a better chance of staying within your depth.
- Children should never go near the open water without an adult who can swim.
What to do in a Dangerous Open Water Situation
- Do a big star float on your back and focus on controlling your breathing and keeping your head above the water!
- Try not to panic or struggle as it will make it difficult for you to keep your head above the water and breathe normally!
- After floating to get your body used to the cold water and control your breathing you should start treading water to generate body heat and signal for help!
- Signal for help by shouting and waving!
Here is a demonstration video of star floats & treading water – https://youtu.be/H0EmKDprwns
How to Help Someone Else in a Dangerous Open Water Situation
- Try to find something that can float in the water and throw or reach it out to them, this is called a reach and rescue.
- Find an adult who can swim or a lifeguard and alert them that somebody is in danger!
- Phone 999 to report an emergency!
Remember that although you are helping someone else you should still remain cautious and keep yourself safe! Here is a demonstration video of a reach & rescue – https://youtu.be/IAlEqqaIQ3g
Pool to Open Water Safety Skills
- If you usually have a preferred side to breath to in the pool then learn to breath to both sides incase you have to avoid a wave or bright sun!
- In a pool you usually have clear water and a line at the bottom to follow, open water is not the same so it can be good to choose a few landmarks to keep your eyes on and follow to make sure you stay in a straight(ish) line, this is called sighting!
- Choppy conditions means that there will be less of a glide in your stroke than you would experience in the water so it can be helpful to have a more assertive/faster stroke to keep momentum!
- Learn how to tread water as slowly and energy efficient as possible so that you stay upright with your head above the water without moving forward!
- Make sure to keep your goggles clear, if you can’t become upright treading water to sort them then you can roll onto your back and continue kicking to give your goggles a wipe!
These are skills that can be most useful when practiced first in a pool so that you can focus on developing the skill without being distracted by the open water environment. Meaning that when you do come to open water swimming it can be made just that little bit easier.