The Outdoor Swimmer’s Code

How to respect the natural environment and be a responsible swimmer

Tom Coe

Climate change, loss of biodiversity and the increased use of the natural environment for recreation by more and more people are all having an impact on swim places and the people who live and work near them. With a boom in swimming outdoors in 2020, many swimmers are new and learning about safety. These factors make the Code more relevant than ever before.

Swimming in the natural environment is a pleasure that should be accessible to all; in return, the Outdoor Swimmer’s Code outlines ways of respecting and protecting the environment, being considerate of other water users and local communities, and being responsible and safe swimmers.

Looking after the environment

  • Look after the environment, especially in areas designated to protect nature. Research the place you are visiting, for example look up SSSIs and nature reserves or ask people or wildlife or conservation organisations familiar with the local area to see what the protections are and what particular care to take.
  • Avoid disturbing livestock or wildlife, including animals, birds, fish and invertebrates.
  • Keep your distance from wildlife, particularly from nesting birds in spring and summer.
  • Keep clear of areas important for fish breeding and spawning, such as gravel shoals and riffles, especially between autumn and spring.
  • Do not pick, uproot, damage or trample plants or trees, including waterweed which is important for invertebrates.
  • Avoid removing rocks or disturbing land features, as important invertebrates can live under these.
  • Be sensitive to bank side vegetation and avoid damaging banks when entering or exiting the water.
  • Leave no trace, taking all litter (yours and others) away with you.
  • Be aware of fire risk and avoid starting a fire or causing damage with barbecues or cigarettes.
  • Be bio secure – CHECK, CLEAN, DRY: check swim gear for organisms after swimming, clean it well, and dry gear before swimming again  #spreadthewordnottheweed.
  • Be sensitive about numbers and the impacts on popular swim spots, and go elsewhere if it is busy.
Shane Stagner

Consideration for other people

  • Be respectful to other water users and visitors, including anglers, boaters, paddlers, and share the water considerately.
  • Be considerate and respectful of landowners and neighbouring properties, and try to find ways to help them with any impacts of swimmers and visitors.
  • Be considerate of communities local to swim spots, and respect that they can be small and sometimes feel overrun by large numbers of swimmers.
  • Be aware of the number of visitors and, if necessary, find somewhere else to reduce the pressure on popular swim spots.
  • Where possible find alternative ways to travel to a swim spot than driving, or lift share.
  • Always park sensitively – don’t block gates to fields, access to houses, or routes for emergency vehicles.
  • Take away other people’s rubbish as well as your own, and never leave litter or food.
  • Be as quiet as possible.
  • Be considerate of others when changing or if considering skinny-dipping.
  • Where possible, access the water by recognised paths. There can be different viewpoints on whether a swim is allowed, so research the location and keep any discussions polite. See Is it Legal for more info.
  • Don’t damage walls or fences.
  • Leave gates as you find them.
  • If taking a dog along, make sure they do not disturb other people, wildlife or livestock, and keep them under close control or on a lead.
  • Always follow the Countryside Code for England & Wales, or for Northern Ireland, or the Scottish Outdoor Code, and in Wales The Wild Swimming Code.
Humphrey Muleba

Swimming safely and responsibly

  • Be responsible for your own safety.
  • Be responsible for any children or other vulnerable people in your charge.
  • Don’t endanger the safety of others, or seek to persuade them to do anything.
  • Plan ahead and do research before going to swim. Seek advice from locals or local groups, research locations, weather, tides in advance, and be prepared for every eventuality.
  • Make an assessment every time you swim. Consider what the risks might be and what you can do to avoid harm.
  • Consider yourself – be aware of and stay within your own limitations.
  • Consider the place – what are the risks, where are the get out points, what currents or tides do you need to consider, what is the depth of the water and are there any obstructions, are there boats so you would need to be visible?
  • Consider the weather conditions on the day, including temperature, wind, rain, or hot weather.
  • Consider swimming with another person – in the water on the bank – and agree a plan for if anything goes wrong. Or let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Know what to do in an emergency – call for help, call 999, ask for Coastguard at the sea or for Fire and Rescue service if inland. Don’t put yourself at risk trying to save a swimmer in difficulty. See advice from RLSS UK.

See the Survive section of this website for information on swimming safety in all types of water bodies and conditions

Join the discussions to get more access to places to swim responsibly in the Inland Access Group – Outdoor Swimming Society group on Facebook