Open Water Swimming Tips: Safety


Hello Future SwimVacationers!

Before writing another word about open water safety, I have to admit something; I have received far more injuries from swimming in pools than from swimming in open water. Sprained fingers from hitting lane lines, a sore back from too many flip turns, and weird bumps on my feet from whatever is growing on the locker room floor, just to name a few.  That said, open water swimming does have its risks; it's one of the things that makes it exciting. Read on to learn more about limiting these risks without ruining a good swim.



Take a Buddy, Leave a Float Plan

The buddy system has been around as long as the bathing suit, and for good reason. But think beyond the idea that your swimming partner could rescue you in case of some bizarre accident; that's just not likely to happen. A buddy is perhaps best used as a second brain; someone to bounce ideas off of. But with a buddy or going solo, it's a good idea to have a float plan. Boaters use float plans to alert authorities of their itinerary should something go wrong. Swimmers can take advantage of these without much fuss; a quick note or email to a friend describing where you are swimming and estimated time in/out of the water will do.

Weather and Water Conditions

Technology allows us instant access to weather reports, radar maps, and real-time buoy readings of water temp, wave height, and current speeds. The safe swimmer uses this data to decide when and where to swim, but it's also important to check conditions with your own eyes. Oceans and large lakes create their own weather, and it can come on fast. Consult nautical charts and tide schedules to create a full understanding of your swimming locations.


Most swimmers like to keep it light when it comes to gear; goggles, suit, go! Extreme conditions, however, call for consideration of a few pieces of safety gear.  A bright colored cap may be the most important piece of safety equipment you own, allowing boaters and other swimmers to see you. Another simple piece of equipment is a flat, plastic safety whistle that can by tucked into your suit, allowing you to alert other swimmers and boaters to your position. Extreme conditions call for more advanced measures; towing a lifeguard rescue tube on a tether behind you can be used both as flotation and as a signal.


is a condition where the body's core temperature drops below 95°F.  Mild symptoms are often vague, but include shivering, skin discoloration (often pale), and mental confusion. Moderate hypothermia produces more violent shivering, mis-coordination of movements, more confusion, and blue skin on the extremities. Severe symptoms include sluggish movements and thinking, blue skin, irrational behavior, and eventually major organ failure and death, if untreated. It is important for cold water swimmers to know these symptoms, and to get out of the water and into warm clothing if they experience any of these symptom (no real icebergs were used in this photo).


We share the aquatic environment with lots of creatures, and this freaks some people out.  The reality is that the vast majority of them want nothing to do with us. Some of the most dangerous aquatic critters that swimmers are likely to come into contact with have no teeth; spiny urchins, jellyfish, and parasites like Cryptosporidium. The best way to avoid these animals is to understand their habitat, and swim elsewhere. Remember that we are only guests in the water, it really belongs to the critters.


The most dangerous animal a swimmer can come into contact with is the human. More specifically, a human on a jet ski, beer in hand, going 70 miles per hour across the bay you're swimming in.  Avoidance is the best policy here, but don't hesitate to call the cops if you're being harassed.  Give fisherman a wide berth. Wear a bright cap. Don't swim in the water skiing slalom course.  Ask permission before crossing private property to get to a swimming hole.

Feel free to contact us at SwimVacation with any questions or comments about our open water tips.

Registration is now open for our March/April 2011 trips.  Register now for a vacation that's all about your passion; swimming!





Swimming TipsHopperComment