Does open water need more regulation? OSS community response

07th June, 2019

On 26th April we asked you the question: does open water need more regulation?  Here’s the response from OSS social media.



We asked our followers on Instagram if we needed more regulation in open water swimming. We did this as a yes/no poll, which received 512 responses. We then asked for optional further comments. The results are listed below.



What do swimmers want? Better info on signage, and measures to protect the environment

Name Response
@gillymcarthur Only [regulation] in terms of our environmental impact ie – spreading invasive species
@ellentayo No regulations as such but more info about the real risks of outdoor swimming.Signs that instead of saying ‘do not swim here’ explain the body of water.
@wardenoflove Knowing more clearly where swimming is and isn’t permitted legally.
@mazz04010x I would love more Open water places to have info about when it is safer to swim.
@dottielinelondon Think we need more useful public info. People are constantly assuming all open water is dirty and unsafe. Some is some isn’t. Hard to get clear info. Public are confused.
@kfk182018 Just around issues like jet ski usage in certain areas.
@nick.kowal More freedom to do it and access to water is what we need regulating.
@littlemissshaw Protection to keep/make water free and safe to swim in. For wildlife and people.
@adam_towler Forcing people to take their rubbish home.


Comments against regulation

Name Response
@ahawalker You don’t need regulations when you are educated enough.Rather than stopping swimming with regulations educate them instead.
@catherinepluspets The whole point is to experience the freedom open water swimming brings..
@beebe_robyn In my experience the OW swim community are respectful people let’s make the most of it.
@cxs084 There already are regulations in place…it’s just one party has come to it too late!
@richitwoshoes Education not regulation.
@mo_macd No people should be responsible for themselves.
@harvmania We do it at our own risk and its our responsibility to know the risks and take correct safety precautions.
@swimstaman We don’t need regulation to walk, or run. It’s the same.
@noamarkou Is life not already regulated enough? Why in the world would you regulate OWS?
@ianhansford I answered no because IMHO people know what they’re doing when they enter the water.
@lewis-ocean-explorer Why can’t swimming at your own risk be enough? Common sense and following practical safe advice?
@sjprentice87 No people just need to be more sensible and know their own limitations.
@atthesignofthepelican Like, how would you? It used to be just swimming…
@imegpugh It would spoil the entire magic of it
@nick.kowal More freedom to do it and access the water is what we need regulating
@mcguirklinda NO
@bannermansimon No, let wild swimming be that. Have a buddy system but leave H&S in the work place.
@jamesandross Open water swimming is about freedom to enjoy the outdoors responsibly but without rules.
@lbulll15 No. Open water swimming is about space and freedom with a splash of respect for the elements.
@john_buoy No, its doing fine as it is.
@jennifercecile Part of what I love about open water swimming is the lack of rules!
@itchenforaswim No just keep the advice coming for the newbies.
@veritybrain What is the point!
@grown_clothing Absolutely not. The open water is wild and free..



There was some excitement in the outdoor swimming community in Northamptonshire when it was announced that outdoor swimming would be allowed at the former drinking water reservoir at Sywell Country Park. This is one of a number of reservoirs in the area that have been off limits for swimming. Access had been established by Northamptonshire Sport (one of 43 similar organisations across the country funded by Sport England and hosted by the County Council) and they had contacted local sports clubs and particularly triathlon clubs for assistance in bringing outdoor swimming to this venue. A festival of open water (there is a distinction between outdoor swimming and open water swimming as becomes apparent below) swimming was arranged for May 25th to formally open the venue. The festival is to include aquathons (juniors and adults) and swimming events at various distances. The local triathlon clubs (including my own) were asked to and took up the offer to help run the day.

I am both a triathlete and an outdoor swimmer. I participate in as many outdoor swimming events as I do triathlons each year and I swim year round (in a wetsuit). I’ve swum in rivers, lakes, commercial ventures and the sea. I couldn’t exactly tell you what I enjoy about year round swimming (I know why I started!!). It’s not for the many and varied benefits that most quote. But the freedom to do so when and where I can is certainly attractive to me. I usually swim at a location nearly an hour from my home which is available year round. I was excited about swimming at Sywell because it is a ten minute drive from my house. I put my hand up to not only help out at the festival but also to help as a ‘lifeguard’ once the water was available to swimmers.

Sadly over subsequent months, my excitement has waned as details of exactly what was going to happen became available and the role of SH2OUT became clear. The water is not to be a venue open to outdoor swimmers but a highly regulated open water venue with strictly controlled access for a couple of hours at a weekend and possibly one evening in the week. It was not to be open year round and swimmers would not be free to swim where they chose but to follow a marked out 750m loop and to stay within the reach of lifeguards both out on the water and on shore. The venue was to attain SH2OUT accreditation so as to advertise itself as a safe regulated venue. It is not very clear what the accreditation process actually is or who set the standards required. I could find nothing online.

I have nothing against rules and regulations. I’m a civil servant. I like rules and regulations and have spent my career creating and enforcing them. However, there is necessary and required regulation and there is the opposite. I see the value of regulation and accreditation for the type of venue Sywell is clearly going to be come. It will bring comfort to the relevant authorities (although possibly misplaced as it is impossible to currently gauge the effectiveness of the SH2OUT process), it will bring the same comfort to nervous swimmers and those new to non pool swimming with ‘lifeguards’, changing rooms, a café etc. present as they look to move from pool bases triathlons to open water based ones. It might bring new converts to the wider activity of outdoor swimming (although SH2OUT seem determined to prevent that looking at their wider remit and what has happened in Scotland). It will also work well as a training venue for triathletes and others looking for a controlled environment to allow them to work on technique and form for competition (and as a result you can’t blame the local clubs for wanting to be involved).

Of course, in trying to deliver the safety ‘benefits’ of SH2OUT accreditation it might have the opposite effect with the ‘accidental’ open water swimmer diving in on a hot summer’s day embolden because down the other end of the reservoir they have seen lifeguards and kayaks etc. and getting into trouble because it’s out of hours or off course. It could well end up having the opposite effect of what is trying to be achieved.

Is it an outdoor swimming venue where all limbs of the activity might enjoy anything from a quick dip on a winter’s day to a lengthy swim at the height of summer? Sadly the answer is no and why I won’t be frequenting the venue.


Since our original feature, The Telegraph have covered this issue, and some swimmers have launched a petition.