Prepare for outdoor swimming
What attracts people to swimming in freezing cold, murky and, sometimes, dangerous waters? For the majority of us, swimming in a nice heated pool that satisfies our need for water exercise or recreation, but for some the draw of the wild is just too strong.
So how should you prepare for outdoor swimming?
Swimming in open water is increasing as a sport and as a pastime, with clubs and associations popping up all over the UK. As with other outdoor sports like hiking, canoeing and mountain biking, there are risks attached. A look at the statistics of UK water-related deaths from 2015 show that of the 321 deaths from drowning, and that the majority of them did not intend to be in the water.
There are certain points of common sense to consider when preparing for an outdoor swim –
- Weather conditions on the day.
- Illness or injury to swimmer.
- Ensuring swimming gear is not damaged or worn.
- An understanding of your own capabilities.
Planning a swim
Unless you are taking part in an organised swim, charity event or as a member of a swimming club, there are several steps to take.
Do I need permission?
Well, in Scotland people are free to swim in open spaces, but in England, Wales & Northern Ireland the laws are not so clear. The rules seem to follow the laws of trespassing, which simply state that if you are not crossing private land to access the water, then it’s okay. It is, however, legal to swim in any body of water that is open to boats.
How clean is the water?
Sometimes, our eyes and nose are a better test than data, so it makes sense to visit the water beforehand and see for yourself. The UK rivers are cleaner than they have been in over a century, but there are some hazards that swimmers need to be alert to –
- Blue green algae. Over the Summer months bursts of blue green algae can emerge over the surface of warm still water. This algae can cause major allergic reactions and rather nasty rashes.
- Weil’s disease. This disease is the severe form of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection caught from entering and exiting infected water that contains the infection. Although there is reported to be a 5-10% mortality rate by covering up any cuts or scratches and seeking out medical advice if you show symptoms of flu the long term effects should be minimal.
- Pollution. It’s vital you check waterways for signs of sewage outlets, farmland runoff and industrial pollution. Take a look at the Environmental Agency website as they have updated information about most open water situations
How do I keep safe?
Ensure you are optimally fit and healthy if you are embarking on any kind of outdoor swimming. There are no lifeguards sitting on the side of the ocean if you get into trouble! Some other pointers to refresh ourselves with are:
- Wear a brightly coloured hat.
- Acclimatise yourself to the water.
- Swim in pairs if possible.
- Swim with a boat alongside if tackling an open stretch of water that covers a fair distance.
- DO NOT swim under the influence of alcohol in circumstances.
So, for those of you that feel you need more of a challenge than the 50 lengths at the local swimming pool, why not check out some of the Open swimming clubs and see just how far your love of water can take you.