Key safety advice for all open water swimmers has been drawn up by the Royal Life Saving Society UK, Swim England and British Triathlon following the partial lifting of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The bodies have collaborated to draw up the guidance, after the Government announced open water swimming would be possible from Wednesday 13 May.

All three organisations are encouraging people to take extra precautions when swimming in lakes, rivers or the sea – no matter how experienced they are. 

The aim is to help prevent swimmers from getting into difficulties in open water – especially as the majority of locations will not have lifeguards – and putting extra pressure on already stretched emergency services.

The COVID-19 Guidance to Open Water for Swimmers (download the document) is being hosted on the SH2OUT website

     Plan your day

  • Use a known venue – where possible a SH₂OUT venue
  • Research the area – make sure it is safe and you know where to get in and out of the water
  • Take time to read the signs and research location advice

    Have the right equipment

  • Wetsuits –  See a great range from YONDA
  • A brightly coloured swimming hat
  • Tow float – See more from our partner - Swim Secure
  • Warm dry clothes – Dryrobes are widely used by open water swimmers
  • Warm drink
  • Something to refuel

     Take a buddy with you

  • Someone from your household
  • One other person from another household
  • Follow the governments advice on social distancing from gov.uk
  • Tell someone else where you are going and how long you expect to be

     Know your limits

  • Swim parallel to the shoreline, wherever possible stay away from deeper water, which will be colder.
  • Plan and be aware of your exit points
  • Enter the water slowly and allow your body to get used to the cold – it will most likely be colder than you think. Read our article on cold water shock

     Know how to stay safe and get help


     Dangers of open water include–

  • The height of the fall or jump if tombstoning
  • The depth of the water – this changes and is unpredictable
  • Submerged objects may not be visible
  • Obstacles or other people in the water
  • Lack of safety equipment and increased difficulty for rescue
  • The shock of cold water can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty in getting out of the water
  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away
  • Uneven banks and river beds
  • Water quality eg toxic algal blooms and industrial/agricultural pollution

All of these hazards can be controlled through proper organisation and planning. 


    If someone is in difficulty in the water –

  • Shout reassurance to them and shout for help and ensure the emergency services are on their way (call 999 or 112)
  • Without endangering yourself, see if you can reach out to them, extend your reach with a stick, pole, item of clothing, lie down or stay secure. Alternatively throw something buoyant to them such as a ring buoy, part filled plastic container, ball or anything that will float.
  • Keep your eye on them all the time and shout reassurance urging them to propel themselves to safety.

To understand basic self-survival and rescue, take our free online water safety toolkit - https://www.rlss.org.uk/Pages/Category/lifesaver-lifechanger