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As Spring arrives and the temperature gradually increases, for many of us it signals the start of dipping our toes back into the open water and seeing if our wetsuit still fits for another season.

It’s well documented that open water brings significant mental as well as health and fitness benefits, and with this there has seen a huge increase in the number of people taking the plunge. After all, we live on an island and are surrounded by the sea so for many it’s the best of nature on their doorstep.

With this increase in popularity for open water swimming then it’s also a timely reminder that safety should always come first, before you even step into the water.

Safety Advice

When it comes to open water swimming safety then one of the best acronyms to remember is I.C.E.B.E.R.G.S  - Impact, Conditions, Environment, Buddy, Equipment, Rescue, Game Plan and Skill

Find a swim buddy

No matter where you’re swimming, it’s always best to swim with someone else in case you get into any difficulties. It’s also great to share your swim experience with someone else as the sea really can be a magical place.

Always tell someone where you’re going.

Tell someone you’re swimming plans such as location, distance you’re planning to swim and route. If you can’t have someone swimming with you then ask a friend to spot you from the land.

Respect the sea

Whether it’s somewhere you’ve swam all your life or a new place, always check the conditions before heading out to sea. Check out the wind direction and tide times as well as the general weather forecast so you’re not caught out. If there are lifeguards around then speak to them and get advice.

Location, location, location

Plan you’re route to be as safe as possible. Swim parallel to the shore where possible and if you’re not a confident deep water swimmer stay within your depth. It’s also a good plan to have a safe entry and exit point – just remember you might have wobbly sea legs when you return to shore so take this into consideration when exiting the water.

Know your limits

We all like to push our limits but being in the open water, especially if just starting again for the season, is not the place to do it. Have a plan and stick to it, whether that’s staying in for a specific period of time or going a certain distance. If you’re not feeling up to the original plan then shorten it and safely return to shore. Don’t think you can simply pick up from where last season left off, gradually build up your open water swim experience over weeks and months.

Be visible

Make yourself as visible as possible while swimming by wearing kit that can be seen at a distance. Most wetsuits now come with high visibility markings but this can be added to by wearing a brightly coloured swim cap and tow float. Because of their position higher out the water, and reflecting sunlight, most boat users will not see you until close up so make sure you’re as visible as possible to them.

Acclimatise

When you were really young you probably ran fearlessly into the sea and weren’t concerned about the cold but acclimatizing is key. Cold water shock is a serious health risk so take your time, start slowly and don’t just jump or dive in no matter how tempting. You’ll find that with cold water it will often be a huge shock to your body and will result in a increase in your heart rate and breathing. Slowly immerse yourself into the water and splash water all over you to help acclimatize.

Food and drink

It goes without saying that you should never swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs but also take time to digest any food before you head off for a swim.

Join a club

Join a local Surf Life Saving, open water swimming club or triathlon club as they will help share local water knowledge and give you a safe group to train with.

So what swimming kit do you need exactly to safely enjoy your open water swimming? Here’s a handy guide as to what to pack for your time in the water.

Swimming Kit

Wetsuit

With so many wetsuits to choose from it’s difficult knowing where to start and we could write a whole guide on this subject alone. Chances are you already have one but it’s important that it fits well across the body as they are designed to not only help you keep warm but also buoyant. If you’re serious about your open water swimming then it’s worth investing in a winter suit that offers thicker material but this can often compromise on flexibility so it’s worth doing your homework. In general triathletes will have a 5/4mm winter wetsuit and a thinner 3/2mm for the summer months but it really depends on your tolerance to the cold water.

Goggles

While you can use your normal swimming pool goggles outdoors, you can also get open water specific goggles. These are often characterized by having polarized lenses to help reduce sun glare off the water and may also have slightly larger lenses for greater peripheral vision. 

Swim gloves, hats and socks

If you feel the cold then these are a real game changer and can make the difference between going out for a swim or remaining land based. The only down side is that you won’t get that complete natural feel as there’s an extra layer between you and the water but it’s honestly worth it for being able to tolerate the cold water and enjoy your swimming as much as possible.

Tow Float

Pulled along behind you and brightly designed to help increase visibility in the open water, many tow floats/ swim safety buoys can also store essential items you may need should you get into trouble or need some nutrition.

Swim Cap

A brightly coloured swim cap is a great bit of kit to help you get noticed in the open water. Think yellow, orange or pink colours to really stand out.

Anti-Chafe Balm

Treat your neck, or any other part of your body, to some anti-chafe lube or cream and it will be eternally grateful. It’s particularly helpful for alleviating those hotspots you get around the neck where your wetsuit rubs.