Looking for more information on channel swimming, ice swimming or open water races?
The Outdoor Swimming Society may be your swimming headwater – but there are feeder streams and tributaries aplenty for specialisms from racing to skinny dipping, ice miles to coaching. Here is a directory to swim groups, bodies and charities in the UK.
Ableize (a virtual listing service for a wide range of UK disability resources) carries a list of swimming clubs for all disabilities. You can assume these are club pools but it might be a start. (See Susanne Masters’ article on accessible swim spots for tips on roaming).
This Australian company partnered with STA in 2019 to offer swim courses specifically tailored to suit those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most of what they offer – certification, links to local teachers and community engagement – is in Australia, but in December 2019 they released a free app to teach children with autism how to be safe in and around the water through an interactive social story based around a pool swim. They have a blog that offers advice and information, much of which is aimed at teaching children and learning to swim. There is little formally related to open water, but awareness around the water is valid in all contexts.
See also Katherine May’s piece on her experiences with autism and sea swimming.
Launching in March the BSA is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote swimming within the BME community and raise awareness of water safety and essential life-saving skills. Aiming to diversify swimming, the BSA runs campaigns and swim clinics in local communities, both for children and adults. The BSA states that three out of five black adults cannot swim and one in four school children leave education without knowing how to swim. Through hands-on projects, advocacy and raising awareness, the BSA plan to change this situation.
This branch of British Triathlon is specifically aimed at para-athletes. It offers advice, support, training and events for para-triathlon swimmers in the UK. They help with classification and support all six male and female categories. They organise national championships for para-triathlon.
Level Water became the official charity partner of The Outdoor Swimming Society in 2016, and swimmers at our events have so far raised £750,000 for the charity. It is spent on providing discounted one to one swimming lessons for children with disabilities to get them started in the water. ‘We work with children for as long as it takes to teach them to swim – usually one to three years – then we help them join group lessons to continue their swimming journeys,’ says CEO Ian Thwaites. ‘We are now growing quickly, hoping to provide lessons to 2,000 children every week.’ For more information on how to be part of the Level Water x OSS journey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A registered charity focused on promoting swimming for people with disabilities, the NASCH run swimming galas, training courses and produce downloadable information sheets. They hold an annual camp offering all people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy an active life and social programme, part of which involves swimming in an outdoor heated pool. They encourage the formation of new swimming clubs and offer advice and courses for swim helpers. They run a number of events throughout the year, ranging from their “Woodlarks” camp to a national championship. They also offer listings of swimming clubs for people with disabilities and have an award scheme.
A voluntary organisation founded in 1956, the BDLSA specialises in long distance and marathon swims and runs many organised swim events. Their membership, £45 for adults, £10 for juniors, gives access to their events, which have an additional cost of between £15-£300 depending on swim and distance. Their championship season usually runs from May until late September. They offer events in both fresh and saltwater, with and without wetsuits, and for swims from 1km to 21 miles. They also offer training camps and their website offers advice on all things distance.
The CSA was the first internationally recognised Channel swimming association, founded in 1927. They authenticate Channel swims and provide information on all things related to swimming the Channel, such as training, support, rules and past swimmers. They have listings for pilots and hold an annual members’ dinner to celebrate the achievements of Channel swimmers in the past year. The CSA charge £390 to authenticate a solo swim and £425 for a relay attempt. Pilot and escort boat fees are separate, as is membership. The rules for swimming the Channel state that swimmers must swim in a standard swimming costume (no neoprene, no covered arms/legs etc) with one swim hat and one pair of goggles. The swimmer may not touch the boat at any point and must start and finish on dry land. The rules are the same whichever organisation you choose to swim with.
The Sea Gals became the youngest relay team to swim the channel with the CSA in 2018.
Another Channel swimming body, the main difference between these two organisations for authenticating Channel swims is the difference in price structure. The CS&PF charge £305-£330 for a solo swim attempt and £340-£380 for a relay (the lower end of the price range is a discount for submission before their deadline of 30 April.) Again, pilot fees and membership are paid for separately. The CS&PF recognise swims made either with them or with the CSA, while the CSA recognise only their own. The association offers members the chance to swim the Channel providing access to registered pilots, long distance open water training, advice and guidelines.
Cancer researcher Chris Tretheway swam the Channel in 2019, with a CS&PF pilot, to raise money for Hope Against Cancer.
The top-level, international governing body of swimming and a range of other water sports, FINA was founded in 1908 to establish swimming rules, verify world records and manage swimming competitions. They control the development of aquatic competition events at international championships. They are a big organisation with a congress made up of 209 national members. They make rules and regulations on swimming and water sports that are implemented at competitions across the world.
British Swimming is the place for elite swimming. As the overall national governing body for swimming in Great Britain, British Swimming is the parent company of Swim England, Scottish Swimming and Swim Wales. They deal with high profile representation of swimming, diving and water polo at an international level. They have a board of 12 comprised of one athlete and 11 high ranking professionals such as lawyers, CEOs, accountants and company directors. They publish an annual report, a range of policies that cover everything from swimming policy to privacy, and a code of conduct. They provide news, results, rankings and records of high-profile British Swimming for events such as the Olympics.
Swim England – formerly known as the Amateur Swimming Association- is the national governing body for swimming in England. Originally funded by the government, Swim England is looking to be increasingly self-funded, via activities which include training swim coaches, a school learn to swim badge scheme and masters swim sessions. Late movers in open water, in 2018 Swim England set up an open water group – expect to hear more about them soon.
The Irish governing body for swimming with a central directory for swimming advice, information and news within Ireland, links to clubs, lessons and training.
The Scottish branch of the Amateur Swimming Association, Scottish Swimming offers information on clubs, training, events and aquatic news.
Swim Wales is the Welsh branch of the swimming governing body. They offer lessons, training advice, and links to swimming including competitive, club, para and open water.
The BSCA offer insurance, public liability cover and legal support for swim coaches who join them. Membership costs £18 a month or £204 a year. Job listings, articles and advice on coaching can be accessed by members on logging in. The BSCA work with both voluntary and professional coaches and are linked with British Swimming, the ASA and Scottish Swimming to promote swim coaching across the UK. They have recently launched a podcast to talk about developments within their industry.
The major operator of swim teacher training in the UK, STA offers a range of qualifications for swim teachers, as well as information on classes for those wishing to learn to swim, improve their stroke or focus on a new area of swimming. They offer classes for adults and children, mostly in a pool environment. They launched a new open water coaching qualification relatively recently, in March 2018. Alongside the more traditional lessons, they also offer alternative courses, such as the new qualification in “mermaid” or mono-fin swimming.
British Triathlon offers news and information on all things triathlon. They have listings of private training venues and an events finder that searches triathlon events across the UK. They record details of elite athletes within the sport. They offer a range of memberships ranging from £12-£94, including a membership for coaches. Memberships vary depending on which package you choose and give access to a range of services including legal insurance, race licensing and personal injury cover.
They were part of the creation of open water “safety guidelines” in the much talked about Sh2out legislation, discussed in The OSS piece about regulation in open water.
Run by British Naturism, the Great British Skinny Dip is an initiative to get more people out enjoying the freedom of skinny dipping, offering a listing of organised skinny dip events around the UK, legal advice, inspiration and information on running your own organised skinny dip. For the last few years they have made September skinny-dip month – ‘Septembare’ – with the media inspiring people to discover the joy of getting into the water in only their skins. The OSS covered the 2019 campaign.
An international organisation devoted to promoting participation in water sports within the LGBTQ+ community, the IGLA run their own championships and have a quarterly newsletter, Wetnotes, offering news on the sport and themselves as a company. They run several different competitions and events, including the intriguing Pink Flamingo – a drag/aqua follies/synchro show in water that has been running since 1989. They introduced Open Water to the IGLA championships in Hawaii in 2011, offering both one and two mile courses.
A celebration of swimming achievements from competitive swimming to marathon swims, aquatic safety to adaptive aquatics for those with disabilities. The International Swimming Hall of Fame is both a physical museum collection in Florida and an online record. They record and share aquatic history and celebrate notable individuals, promoting the importance of swimming and the wide range of forms it can take. They also develop educational programmes and water sports events.
OSS director Kate Rew was awarded an ISHOF award for services to swimming in 2016.
The WSC grew out of blog “A Lotus Rises”, which featured advice from women across the open water swimming community. It has grown into a start-up social enterprise committed to getting more women swimming as a “gateway to new skills and opportunities.” They offer swim coaching, workshops, events, community swim projects and women’s swimming advocacy. Their work is focused on empowerment and the opening up of swimming to those who haven’t had the chance to learn or enjoy it previously, such as their 2019 learn to swim project in conjunction with CARAS (Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers).
WOWSA is a worldwide group promoting open water swimming. They feature news from the world of open water swimming along with education programmes, promotions and sponsored swim listings. They offer race insurance and run an annual open water swimming conference. They also publish the monthly Open Water Swimming magazine, which is free to their members, and a yearly Open Water Swimming Almanac. They also offer awards for the world’s 50 most adventurous men and women in swimming.
An association for the formalisation of ice swimming, the IISA were founded in 2009 to promote and regulate this extreme sport. They are passionate about the extreme sport of swimming in temperatures below 5 degrees c and both organise events and establish rules to participate safely. They are responsible for the creation of the Ice Mile challenge, seen by many as the ultimate cold-water endurance achievement. Within the UK they are represented by the IISA GB.
The OSS covered ice swimming’s progression to being considered as an Olympic sport back in 2018.
The IWSA organise the biannual Winter Swimming World Championships. Most recently, they were held in Lake Bled in Slovenia in winter 2020. Participation has almost tripled since they began in 2000 with just 500 participants. They also hold a winter swimming world cup and organise safe winter swim events ranging from short 25m swims to longer 1000m swims. They welcome swimmers of all ages and experience levels and hold listings of winter swimming world records. They offer clubs advice on holding their own winter swimming events and have a water temperature classification table.
NOWCA operate controlled open water swimming at 28 lakes around the UK. Venues can ‘self-certificate’ just by completing a form and following the system. Swimming is allowed in specified times and parts of the lake only. Venues offer marked circuits and a wristband system that keeps track of who is in the water and stores personal details and swim stats. They ask swimmers for an annual membership fee of £12 and then charge for each swim at prices ranging from £5-£8 depending on venue. Many of the venues are seasonal and some insist swimmers wear wetsuits, which are often available to hire. They also offer a ‘NOWCA swim’ event at some of their locations where wristband holders can swim a 400m circuit for free at a specified time. A list of participating venues, and the specifics of each, can be found on their website.
Swims like this can appeal to those new to open water who want the security or comfort of safety cover or those training for triathlons. They can also allow access to certain areas swimmers are frequently denied access to, such as docks. As with sh2out, the problem with regulated swimming in this way is that saying you can swim here at this time implies you can’t swim just down the bank or at a time of your own choosing. The worry is that this could in-fact shut down our lakeshores rather than open them up. The OSS has covered this issue in the sh2out section below and, as always, the most important thing to remember is that any and all open water swimming carries the responsibility (and the joy) of making your own, informed choices about safety, conditions and competency.
A partnership between British Triathlon and the RLSS, Sh2out is aimed at regulating open water swimming. They offer accreditation to open water swim venues based on a set of ‘guidelines’. They currently have four accredited lake venues, all with changing rooms and three with showers. They are all seasonal. They support triathlon training and, similar to NOWCA, offer swims at a set time and part of the lake only.
The controversy around the Sh2out movement has raised the question: does open water swimming need more regulation? The danger is that by nature each outdoor swim is vastly different, not just from other swims but from the same swim on a different day and in different conditions. It is incredibly hard to come up with an all-encompassing set of safety guidelines. It also creates the problem that if something is assigned ‘safe’ does that imply all other swims are not safe? With inland access being something already frequently difficult for swimmers, will this narrow down access to inland beaches?
You can read more on the OSS response to the sh2out plans here.
Established in 1891, the RLSS focuses on water safety and describe themselves as the ‘Drowning Prevention Charity’. They offer a range of qualifications and programmes including the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification, the National Beach Lifeguard Qualification and an Open Water Lifeguard Qualification. Over the years they have produced a series of short drowning-awareness films including “Don’t drink and drown,” and “Beneath the Surface”, a series of interviews with families who have lost someone in this way.
They, amongst others, were part of the All Part Parliamentary Group on Swimming alongside the OSS. This group was formed to promote increased participation in swimming and the OSS in particular was keen to use this opportunity to campaign for more access to inland beaches.
They also teamed up with British Swimming to create the Sh2out legislation for open water swimming, more of which is covered in the appropriate section below.
The RNLI is the oldest life-saving charity, founded in 1824. The biggest difference between the two lifesaving charities is that the RNLI provide lifeboats and lifeboat crews. They also train beach lifeguards (not pool lifeguards) and have job vacancy listings for paid as well as volunteer posts. Much of their work is preventative, involving watching the water, spotting danger signs and making swimmers aware of them. They produced the ‘Respect the Water’ campaign videos showing swimmers struggling to breathe and introduced ‘float to increase your change of survival’.
Focused on water safety and with a tradition of volunteer training, SLSGB are another life-saving charity. They train over 1000 new lifeguards a year and hold youth and open championships. As well as beach patrolling, they operate a flood response search and rescue unit, with 200 fully trained flood rescue technicians. They also have an online incident report form.