Scottish Open Water Swimming Association (SOWSA) proposal

01st February, 2018

The consultation period for a new Scottish Open Water Swimming Association is open until 13th February – have your say

Robert Hamilton (Vigour Events), Stewart Griffiths (The Water Safety Crew) and Phia Steyn are proposing to form a new charity, the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association (SOWSA). With free wild swimming an established constitutional right in Scotland, and the event and open water industry well established, what will SOWSA do and why? How will it impact swimmers? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Who will it benefit – and who might it harm?

Responses to the proposal are sought by 13th February, and the OSS response and the response of some Scottish wild swimming groups is published here.


  • Responses to the proposal are sought by 13th February. The authors say  “comment on any or all aspects of this proposal is welcomed: email to
  • There is also an opposition petition “we oppose the SOWSA proposal as it stands” running on


“We are pleased to present draft documents for general consultation of the proposed new charity, the Scottish Open Water Swimming Society. We invite and welcome comments on all aspects in this document from interested parties, stakeholders and partners in open water swimming in Scotland. We further request the open water swimming community in Scotland to make recommendations on activities that they propose SOWSA undertake in the different regions, and make known what their needs are in terms of open water swimming.

We are hereby launching a three month consultation period that will run from 13 November 2017 until 13 February 2018. Please e-mail all contributions to:  Once the consultation process is completed, the comments will be used to amend this proposed document which will become the basis for the new proposed charity to be launched in Spring 2018.”

Robert Hamilton, Steward Griffiths, Phia Steyn. 


Like elsewhere in the United Kingdom open water swimming has grown tremendously in Scotland over the past decade. This fact is best demonstrated by the inclusion of a section on open water swimming in the newest version of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which provides detailed guidance to everyone on how to exercise and manage the public’s statutory access to most of Scotland’s outdoors that is granted in terms of the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act. Back in 2010 open water swimming was not even included in the water specific guide to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code called Using Inland Water Responsibly: Guidance for All Water Users.

Neither were swimmers identified as open water users! We are very fortunate in Scotland to have statutory right of access to most land and inland waters. Open water swimmers in England and Wales, with their different legal system, do not share in this privilege, and often have to campaign for years to be granted access to specific stretches of water, even rivers that flows through some urban areas.

Having the statutory right to access most land and inland waters in Scotland does not come without obligations, and the Land Act requires these rights to be ‘exercised responsibly, with respect for people’s privacy, safety and livelihoods, and for Scotland’s environment. Equally, land managers have to manage their land and water responsibly in relation to access rights.’

Within the Scottish context this means that the cooperation between all stakeholders in open water swimming can only be beneficial to all parties involved to ensure that open water swimming in our country take place in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Cases of closer cooperation between open water swimming groups, operators, land owners, other water users and/or land managing bodies over the past couple of seasons illustrate that collaborative action is to everyone’s advantage, and in turn helps to promote the growth of this sport in Scotland. It is against this background that we propose the creation of the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association.

PROPOSED NAME: Scottish Open Water Swimming Association (SOWSA)

TYPE OF CHARITY: To be registered as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

KEY AIM: To promote and grow safe open water swimming within Scotland through cooperation between relevant stakeholders and partners in the country.

KEY OBJECTIVE: To bring together all stakeholders involved in open water swimming including open water swimmers, swim coaches, event organisers, boat pilots, health and safety professionals, land owners, local and national tourism bodies, and relevant heritage and conservation bodies into one body with the aim of promoting and growing safe open water swimming in Scotland.

SOWSA proposes to meet its key objective by way of focusing on three complimentary areas of Open Water Swimming:

  1. Open water swimmers
  2. Landowners, utility bodies, and conservation and heritage bodies controlling access to and management of open water venues
  3. Professional providers of piloting, health, safety, and event management services

Since these three sections deals with separate aspects of the open water experience, area specific aims and objectives are proposed for each subdivision.


AIM: To promote and encourage new and existing participants to the sport of open water swimming in Scotland.


  1. To increase safe public participation in open water swimming in Scotland, in all suitable attire (wetsuit/non-wetsuit).
  2. To cooperate closely with relevant parties in promoting safe open water swim practices in Scotland.
  3. To grow open water swimming in Scotland through the promotion of current swim routes, and the development of new swim routes, especially routes connected with iconic Scottish historical, natural and built environments.
  4. To provide a comprehensive online information guide for swimmers interested in undertaking specific open water swims in Scotland such as, and not confined to, providing information on recognised routes, and affiliated pilots operating in these waters.
  5. To be open to suggestions of new open water swim routes and where realistic, to work together with other interested parties to establish definite safe swim routes, investigate piloting services in the area, and develop guidelines for proposed new routes.
  6. To ratify open water swim routes of marathon distance (i.e. 10km) and longer in fresh and sea water in Scotland.
  7. Relationship with other relevant bodies, including Scottish Swimming, the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA), and the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA). The proposed SOWSA does not stand in opposition or in competition to Scottish Swimming, BLDSA and ILDSA. SOWSA aims to provide a Scotland specific service, does not intent to run events, and through working in collaboration with a wider body of stakeholders and partners promote new and existing open water swim routes in the country. Close cooperation with any of the relevant national, UK level, European and international open water swimming organisations will be explored


AIM: To provide a pathway for landowner and stakeholder engagement in the planning, organising and running of open water swimming events.


  1. To provide model risk assessments to landowners and management bodies dealing with requests to use open water venues located on their land.
  2. To engage in open conversation with landowners and land and resource management bodies (such as conservation, nature protection, heritage and utility bodies) to ensure swimmers access open water venues in safe and environmentally responsible ways.
  3. To advise and educate landowners in their engagement with the open water swimming community.
  4. To work on open water swimmers’ behalf to improve safe and responsible access of open water venues in Scotland.

Scottish Outdoor Access Code for Swimmers: In terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003, access rights extend to swimming in open waters. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code for Swimmers state: ‘Remember that swimming in open water can be dangerous, particularly for children, and that the water might be used for public water supply. Help to minimise problems for other users by:

  • not swimming close to water intakes, abstraction points or spillways
  • avoiding nets or other fishing tackle
  • not disturbing anglers and other water users
  • not polluting the water, and
  • being aware that in prolonged dry spells fish might be distressed due to low water levels.’


AIM: The promote policies and practices around open water swimming in a safe outdoor environment


  1. To draw up best practice guidelines in running safe and environmentally sustainable open water swimming events in Scotland.
  2. To promote the undertaking of comprehensive risk assessments for all proposed open water swimming events to be held in Scotland, and maintain a database of individuals, charities and organisations who are able to carry these out.
  3. To maintain a list of recommended boat pilots and safety providers along with a detailed description of the open waters in which they have competencies.

Relationship with other relevant bodies:

SOWSA has no intention of becoming a front that promotes the business interests of specific individuals involved in the charity. Its primary aim is to promote and ensure that open water swimming events held in Scotland are run safely and responsibly. No open water event, small or large, will ever satisfy all those who participate. The onus, however, does rest on event organisers, safety providers and boat pilots to ensure the safety of all people involved in the event, as does the need to consult with stakeholders and partners in the planning and execution phases of open water swimming events, and planning to minimise the environmental footprint of these events.


ED 11am/ 1st Feb: OSS response coming soon.