SAFETY WHILE SEA SWIMMING
- SWIM AT LIFEGUARDED BEACHES: Where possible, stick to lifeguarded beaches when swimming in the sea, unless you are an experienced long distance swimmer. Obey the flags. If you get into trouble, signal for help by raising an arm or leg.
- BEWARE OF WAVES: Beware of waves if you can’t swim well. You can be knocked over and pulled out of your depth quickly. If this happens, float on your back, raise an arm or leg and shout for help.
- BEWARE OF RIVER MOUTHS: Be especially careful around locations where rivers meet the sea. There can be strong currents including rips.
- KNOW WHAT A RIP CURRENT LOOKS LIKE: Rips often appear safer to swim in as the water looks calmer. On many beaches, especially those with surf breaks, there may be rip currents that pull you out beyond the surf so avoid ‘rivers’ of calmer water within areas of waves. Rips also form along reefs pointing out to sea, piers, and groynes, so avoid these areas too.
If you get caught in a rip, stay calm, they won’t drag you under. Don’t try to swim against it you’ll get exhausted.
- If you can stand, wade rather than swim.
- If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore.
- Always raise your arm or leg and call for help.
RECOGNISE THE SIGNS OF DROWNING
We all know the movie and TV version of drowning: shouting, waving, maybe screaming for help. This is not what happens in reality. People who are drowning:
- Are usually silent: they are trying to gulp air and can’t shout.
- Their mouth will bob above and below the surface of the water, and will be open as they try to gulp air.
- Their head is often tilted back as they try to keep their mouth above water.
- Their arms might be extended straight out sideways, and appear to be flapping as they try to push themselves up using the water surface.
- They might appear to be doggy paddling or treading water, as though climbing an invisible ladder.
This drowning phase lasts for 20-60 SECONDS
What should you do:
- Call for help – dial 112 or 999 and ask for the Coastguard when at coastal locations or 112 or 999 and ask for the Fire and Rescue service when at any inland waterside location. Don’t attempt to save a swimmer in difficulty without the correct training, experience or equipment. They will grab you and try to climb up you, thus pulling you under.
- If you want to help, try shouting instructions about how to float, or find something buoyant you can throw to help keep them above the water.
- Learn Basic Life Support. You could save a life.
- If you’re a strong swimmer, learn how to rescue someone, but only do this if the conditions are well within your ability and you are confident in your ability to rescue.
Further advice can be found on the RNLI website.
RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Swimming outdoors used to be widely accepted in the UK, including in towns and cities, before the pollution of our watercourses and the building of heated indoor pools brought swimmers indoors. Now outdoor swimming is making a comeback, and The Outdoor Swimming Society’s membership has grown from 300 in its first year (2006-7) to 125,000 in 2021.
Knowledge of how to swim outdoors safely is shared in the ‘survive‘ section with information on understanding rivers, understanding lakes and quarries, understanding the sea, and cold.
Like any outdoor activity, there are ways to swim safely, with respect for nature, your own limits and the surroundings – we have developed the Outdoor Swimmer’s Code to guide you in this. Our ethos is that people be free to swim, but carry the responsibility for doing so safely.