Posts tagged ‘wild swimming’

12 August, 2013

Top five tips to stay safe while swimming in open water this summer

It’s been one of the hottest summers for many years and more scorching temperatures are on their way this week. But with the heat, we often see young people, particularly men, tempted to cool off or jump into open water.

Supervised sites, like a lifeguarded beach, are the safest places to swim.

Supervised sites are the safest places to swim.

During the July heatwave, which lasted for around three weeks, we are aware of at least 21 deaths for people who were swimming or playing around water – about the same number as we normally see for a complete summer month.

Water can look incredibly tempting especially on a hot day and I understand fully why people want to get in and cool off.

Although I don’t want to be the grumpy old man of summer, there are some things that need a bit of thought before you get into the water.

Here’s my top five:

1. Go to swim at a lifeguarded beach, lido, swimming pool or bathing spot. This is the single most positive thing you can do for your safety. Last year, there were no deaths in lifeguarded swimming pools and, as far as I can tell, there were also no preventable deaths at lifeguarded spots such as beaches and lidos.

In addition, you will be swimming in clean water and there will be an ice cream van too.

2. Take it slowly – think before you enter the water. A common scenario is when a young male, typically aged between 15 and 30, jumps or rushes into cooler water (15˚C or less). Remember there can be a big difference between surface water temperature, which can be in the 20˚Cs at this time of year, and the layers below, which can be much cooler at or below that critical 15˚C. The cooler temperatures can lead to a swimmer going into cold shock.

Cold shock is the term we use for the impact of cold water on the body. In short, after a quick entry into water your heart rate jumps up, you start to hyperventilate and lose the ability to control your breathing, whilst at the same time your muscles cool down and you start to lose the ability to swim.

Jumping in into cooler water can lead to cold shock and swim failure.

Jumping in into cooler water can lead to cold shock and swim failure.

If this happens in a cold bath, you can jump out, but in open water, it’s not so easy, and ultimately – in the worst case – you inhale water and the drowning process begins.

There are a few ways to limit this:

(i) Get in slowly, get used to the water conditions and check out the swim spot

(ii) Wear a wetsuit, and/or a buoyancy aid

(iii) Swim outside all year round more or less, and become a habituated open water swimmer – training your body to get used to cold water temperatures.

Realistically, if you are not going to wear a wetsuit or train to be an open water swimmer, the best thing you can do is get in slowly and get used to the conditions.

3. If you want to drink alcohol, have your beer after you swim, not before. It affects your judgement, can make you more susceptible to cold and in my opinion it tastes much better in that order!

4. When you’re not at a supervised site, be sociable and go with other people. If someone else is there, they can raise the alarm and help you out, or vice versa. It could be a lifesaver.


Warning signs are there for a reason.

5. On a final note, if you see a site with signs that say “don’t swim/deep water/beware”, it’s your decision if you choose to ignore them, but be aware that this might be backed up by local laws. Ultimately, the reason for the sign is because the manager or someone who knows the area really well is of the opinion that they can’t make the place safe enough for you to use.

As a minimum, think really carefully before you go in, particularly if the signs point out hidden currents and structures, such as weirs, deep and cold water.

Hopefully, that is some help, so enjoy the hot weather while it lasts!

David Walker, leisure safety manager at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

For more water safety information visit

26 August, 2011

Gone wild swimmin’

One of the many pleasures of moving to Cumbria last year was the opportunity to go completely wild a bit more often. I’ve been enjoying weekends and holidays up there for more than thirty years, so I’d already sussed out some great swimming spots (which will remain top secret!).

There’s nothing better after a day on the fells than to rejuvenate tired limbs in cold water, and with a sailing boat and a canoe in the inventory, to complement shanks’s pony and the (t)rusty bike, it’s easy to get into some remote spots where others might fear to tread water.

Our CEO takes a dip

With RoSPA having taken more than a bit of flak from open water swimmers in the past, it is now time to disclose that the CEO and quite a few others of us RoSPA folk often go wet and wild. To be even more honest, I have swum in some uncommon places, including all of the Great Lakes (some kind of bet), Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (seriously, painfully cold) and the Ganges at Varanasi (spiritually uplifting but bacterially soupy). Also, if you take to cold water with all the happy, panting enthusiasm of a Newfoundland dog, you might as well swim there too, and I have.

Of course at RoSPA, we know only too well that people should never swim where it is prohibited (e.g. some parks, rivers, reservoirs and gravel pits), should never be impaired by alcohol and should not swim directly after a meal.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the joys of wild swimming, containing advice, information and recommending places to get wet.

And despite the image of bohemian freedom conjured up by wild swimming, there are quite a few pointers that I have learnt along the way, to suit my own appetite for “wild”. In Cumbria, my greatest fear is being swept away, so in a river if the current looks too fast, it is too fast and I look for somewhere more benign.

I also do a quick recce around the spot in case anything looks dangerous or has changed since the last visit – a boulder likely to tumble, a fallen tree or a jumble of rocks to get your foot trapped in – all need to be scoped out.

Swimming shoes are must-haves (light and easy to pack in a rucksack) to protect the feet and give some kind of grip on slimy rocks, as are trunks (middle-aged man alert!) because the alternative, though DH Lawrence-esque, could easily spook any passing walkers. Mountain Rescue has enough on its plate!

Not everybody was enamoured of the cold...!

Submerged, waterlogged trees are as rigid as iron and very painful if a sharp branch hits a vital part. So I go in slowly and get my breath before swimming and if the water is really cold (I’m a wimpy April-October type), I aim to stay within my depth, swimming parallel to the shore, in case of cramp in those tired, fell-worn limbs.

Most importantly, I have never, ever gone alone, tempting though the solitude is, and whether my wife, one of my sons or a friend is with me, we always have a brief chat about the hazards and what to do in an emergency.

But taking these precautions is only a tiny impediment to the feeling that soon follows once the body settles down and the “hit” of that peaty, cold water washes over the soul, the pleasure heightened by the glorious Lakeland surroundings. It is pure magic, a cleansing, invigorating antidote to all the cares of the world.

When you emerge, reborn and renewed, everything in your life looks that little bit sharper and brighter, there is a tiny, involuntary smile on your lips and, for the rest of the day, you walk, springy with joy, on a soft cushion of fresh mountain air.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s Chief Executive


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