The Outdoor Swimmer’s Code

How to respect the natural environment before diving in

Who else uses the land that you swim through? Animal, people, fish, insects and birds: how to better respect the natural resource we all share

Consideration for others

  • Be considerate of your effect on other water users such as fishermen/women, boaters, nesting birds. Be courteous to them and be courteous of their rights.
  • Be considerate to landowners and properties that neighbour popular swim spots.
  • Park sensitively wherever you go: do not block gates to fields or access to houses.
  • Properties that neighbour very popular summer swim spots are likely to suffer aggravation. Remain sympathetic and courteous if met with hostility. If there is a way to show thanks or lessen the burden on them, please take it.
  • Take away others rubbish as well as your own and recycle it. At very popular swim spots farmers, landowners and volunteers have to do daily clearance of other people’s rubbish: this is not anybody’s job, and more hands help.
  • Do not scorch ground with barbecues.
  • Be as quiet as possible so as not to spoil the enjoyment of others.
  • Keep a good distance from anglers and avoid their lines. Leave them ample room to cast. Pass by quickly and quietly, creating as little disturbance as possible and do not loiter in fishing pools.
  • You may want to encourage others to participate. Do not force them.
  • Be considerate about skinny-dipping.

Personal safety

  • You are responsible for your own safety. Respect the safety of others and swim responsibly at all times.
  • Always remember: conditions change. Water levels rise and fall, rocks move.
  • What is safe to one swimmer can be fatal to the next: do your own research and be honest about your abilities and understand your limitations.
  • Plan ahead, obtain local knowledge if possible and follow any signs.
  • Be visible: wear a bright hat or tow float to make sure other water users can see you.
  • Check the weather beforehand and don’t be afraid to abandon your swim if adverse conditions arise.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.
  • Except in an emergency, launch or land only at recognised access places.
  • Swimming with someone increases your personal safety.
  • For more information: read OSS Summer Safety, and browse this ‘Survive’ section for better understanding of specific risks, such as cold, waterfalls, weirs, tides and currents.

Look after your environment

  • Protect nature and look after the environment you are using, especially around areas of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  • Do not disturb wildlife.
  • Keep clear of gravel shoals and islands during the spring when birds may be nesting.
  • Keep clear of nesting birds, areas important for fish breeding and spawning and salient otter sites.
  • Do not pick up, uproot, or trample wild plants and trees.
  • Do not remove rocks or wilfully change or disturb land features.
  • Be mindful of bankside vegetation.
  • Take care not to disturb waterweed and gravel beds.
  • Leave no trace. Take all litter (yours and others) with you.
  • Be Biosecure – CHECK, CLEAN, DRY: check your swim gear for organisms after swimming, give it a good clean, and dry all gear before swimming again #spreadthewordnottheweed.
  • Forego single use plastics.

Local conditions, law and order

  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Park considerately and walk to swimming locations. Be aware of neighbouring residential areas and ensure there is still local and emergency service access.
  • Do not trespass on private banks.
  • Use recognized paths where possible.
  • Keep dogs under close control at all times and on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July as per the Countryside Code.
  • Comply with any byelaws.
  • Leave the water if requested to do so by an Environment Agency Officer. Such a request will only be made where there is a real risk of disturbance.


  • Enjoy the privilege of outdoor swimming!
Anna Morrell