Safety information helpful guide (SWIM)

Below is some safety information provided by Liz Richardson about how she approaches wild swim safely. Even experienced wild swimmers can find themselves in difficulty and this blog is not intended as a set of instructions, rather it is for information only. Wild swimmers do so at their own risk and TBTL and Liz Richardson do not accept any liability for accidents or incidents that may occur.


Swim sober. Alcohol and drugs impair your judgement, your swimming ability and your ability to regulate body temperature.

Check there’s a suitable exit point before you get into any water. In rivers, be particularly careful as currents are often faster than you think. Rip currents in the sea can reach 4-5mph, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Warnings of freezing water in high summer are untrue and swimmers know this; water warms with the air temperature and sun. The average sea temperature around the UK is 12c, cold water shock can be triggered in water below 15c. Cold water has an effect on the body and can incapacitate the swimmer, weakening arms and legs. Increase your exposure to open water gradually, and swim along the banks (rather than across) lakes, for instance, so that you can exit the water when you feel cold. Larger bodies of water will be colder.

Jumping into water at less than 15c can cause cold water shock. One of the most common symptoms of this is an uncontrollable gasp. This can means water enters your lungs and you could drown. Following the gasp reflex, you might start to breathe very quickly or hyperventilate. This response isn’t under conscious control and lasts for one-two minutes. Get in slowly and ensure your breathing is under control before you start to swim.

Cold: You can’t become truly hypothermic for at least 30 minutes and probably much longer in summer, however the cold water can cool your muscle tissue, which will affect your swimming and your coordination, so you might find it difficult to get out.

Reservoirs, lakes and rivers are tempting for swimmers to try to cross and it can be tempting to swim out to sea. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble because the cold weakens their arms and legs as the body tries to stay warm by diverting blood to the core. If this happens you can find yourself in trouble far from safety.

Ask the locals about the best places to swim and read local hazard signs. The presence of a swim spot in a book, newspaper feature or website is no guarantee of its safety that day – conditions change, rain falls, rivers rise, currents quicken, temperatures fall, and the safety of all locations depends on the ability of the person in the water. Do your own risk assessment before getting in. Consider your experience and ability.

Be aware of and honest about your own swimming fitness and ability outdoors. Swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool, so stay within your limits.
Be careful of sudden changes of depth. Check the depth and what’s in the water before you get in. Don’t dive or jump in unless you know it’s deep enough and there are no obstructions. Conditions can change and tides can rise and fall rapidly, so water which was deep enough last time might not be this time.

Don’t try to rescue someone in trouble. Drowning people will drag you under. Raise the alarm at once. Dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard or relevant agency, to ensure trained professional rescue services are on their way. 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. Do not enter the water without the correct training, experience or equipment.

Be alert to weather and its effect on your swim. Rainfall can drastically alter the risk profile of a river swim. For example, high rains can bring faster currents, pollution, and change a river from one where it was possible to swim back upstream to a getting out point to one where you are swept along by the current. Lower rains bring shallower water, which can make jumps which were previously safe dangerous, as rocks are exposed. Lower rain can be linked to pollution too, as toxins are not diluted. Other weather can have an effect: swimmers can become engulfed in mist and sea fog. Wind can stir up chop, and increase chill. In coastal locations wind and weather conditions can cause bigger waves, stronger rip currents and bigger faster flowing tides.

Find a safe area for children to play in and watch them all the time. It’s easy for them to fall in. Start them off with float aids even if they can swim in a pool, while they build confidence and experience natural temperature water.

It’s best not to fall in, but if you do, try to float calmly on your back for a 1-2 minute period, rather than swimming immediately. If you get swept downstream or in a rip current turn so that you are feet first on your back. Shout for help.

Avoid Weirs. Many people swim in the pools upstream from them which is usually safe enough in low flows. The big danger area is at the bottom of the falls where circulating currents can trap swimmers and hold them under the water.


When you watch the sea before getting in, check:

How the waves are breaking, what type of waves they are, where the rocks are, where is weedy? Can you see any rips? What’s the tide doing?


Check tide timetables, and be aware swimming will usually – but not always – be easier on a slack tide (an hour either side of high or low water) when less water is moving. This means there are usually weaker currents on the slack, but again, there are exceptions; for example, rip currents tend to be strongest on surf beaches around low tide.  On an outgoing tide, it will be harder to get back to shore.


If you get caught in a rip, stay calm. Swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore
If you can stand, wade, don’t swim. Raise your arm or leg and call for help


People who are drowning are usually silent. Call for help – dial 112 or 999 and ask for the Coastguard or ask for the Fire and Rescue service when at any inland waterside location. Don’t attempt to save a swimmer in difficulty.
Find something buoyant you can throw to help keep them above the water.


Spot the dangers

Advice – follow safety advice and read signs

Friend – swim with others

Emergency – call for help, recognise the signs of someone in trouble

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