RLSS UK’s Adrian Lole has given us an insight into his experiences of open water swimming.

Recent years have seen rapid growth in the number of people tempted to try open water swimming for the first time. Open water swimming is a great way to extend the experience of swimming in carefully heated and chemically treated pools.

As a child of the seventies, brought up on ‘public information drowning prevention films’ and taught to swim by my safety conscious parents, I stumbled across the world of open water on the annual holiday to Cornwall. Here with two adventurous brothers I recall many pleasant hours in the sea, surfing on rough wooden boards but also swimming in the sea-pool in Bude –  the cold often making it difficult to get in but twice as hard to get out, there was simply too much to see and do!

From those tentative years I have grown to both love and respect the water, the opportunities for challenge are numerous, but challenge can sometimes take you by surprise. On more than one occasion I have felt the pure unstoppable force of water, thankfully left unharmed but reflecting on what might have happened if I hadn’t been a reasonable swimmer but also a bit lucky!

Some would say open water swimming comes with obvious risks but that plain common sense will keep you afloat. I tend to disagree and the annual drowning statistics tend to support the view that many sensible people still under estimate the risks. So what precautions should you take before dipping a toe in the great outdoors?

Below is a ‘Top Ten’ list of safety advice issued by the RLSS UK, the drowning prevention charity:

  • Always try to swim at sites where there are lifeguards and other safety measures to look after you should you need help
  • Always follow safety signs and take advice from the lifeguards or more experienced swimmers
  • Never dive or jump into water where you don’t know the depth or can’t clearly see the underwater features
  • Cold water can take your breath away so take your time to get used to the water before attempting to swim
  • Plan your swim carefully, know where you can easily get out, swim close to the bank or shore as opposed to across great expanses of deep water
  • Wear a wetsuit it will help keep you afloat and warm
  • Wear a bright swimming hat, it will help you be seen and will also keep you warm
  • Swim with friends and look out for each other
  • Make for the exit as soon as you start to feel cold, don’t wait till you are shivering
  • When you get out of the water make sure you have clothes that are easy to get on quickly; retain heat, cut out wind chill and protect you from the elements.  Remember you continue to lose heat for up to an hour after you leave the water so think carefully about your ability to drive etc.