Updated: Mar 12
Swimming in the outdoors does have its risks, but instances of wild swimmers drowning in the UK are very, very rare and if you are sensible and follow the saftey advice below it is a very safe way to have fun, stay healthy and connect with nature. To find places to swim that are right for you, check out the Outdoor Nation Adventure Map.
10 Tips to keep you safe when wild swimming
1. Never swim alone
The number one rule for wild swimming is to make sure you have someone on hand to help if you have a problem. Even strong swimmers can get into difficulty! Also make sure you have working phone and you've told someone where you're going.
2. Keep a careful eye on children
Children are naturally unaware of risk and keen to explore. They should be briefed on how to stay safe and monitored at all times. Weak swimmers should have swimming aids and be accompanied in the water.
3. Check tides, currents and flows
To the untrained eye, water can be unpredictable and can easily catch you out. Learn how to check the tides and currents when swimming in the sea and estuaries, and flow rate when in rivers.
4. Stay close to safety
There is also a risk of developing muscle cramp when swimming which can seriously impact your ability to swim. Cold water can also significantly affect your swimming stamina. Advice is generally to assume you can only swim 10% of the distance you could swim in warm water, so avoid going too far from saftey.
5. Don't get too cold
Whilst there is no doubt that cold water can be good for you, it can still be dangerous to get too cold. Cold water can significantly affect your stamina when swimming and lead quickly to hypothermia. Make sure you don't overdo it and that you have the ability to warm up when you get out.
6. Watch your footing.
Whilst drowning is very rare when wild swimming in UK, accidents from slips and falls are common. Wear the right footwear and be cautious getting in and out of the water, especially on slippery rocks and muddy banks.
7. Look before you leap.
Clearly there is a heightened risk when jumping into the water, both from objects under the surface and, potentially, from sudden exposure to very cold water. Before you jump, check it is safe and that you will be able to handle the temperature.
8. Avoid weeds and water obstacles.
Whilst vegetation under the water is totally natural and harmless, it is possible for it to become a challenge to swim amongst and can cause panic. It's fine in shallower waters but avoid if swimming out of your depth.
9. Avoid algae
Perhaps the best-known algae in the UK is Blue-green algae. This is a natural phenomenon and is common in warmer lakes in the summer. It can cause irritation and sickness if swallowed. It's clearly visible as a sort of 'scum' on the surface and can be easily avoided.
10. Check water quality
Water quality is a topic of much discussion in the UK. Generally, frequented swim spots are safe to swim in but there are tools you can use to check, including the UK Gov website and the Rivers Trust's sewage network map.
Remember, wild swimming is not inherently dangerous, but there it does have it risks. Make sure that you consider them each time you swim and apply these saftey tips where appropriate. If you want to read more on how to stay safe when swimming, the most comprehensive online source of saftey advice is on the 'Survive' section of the Outdoor Swimming Society website.