10 essential guidelines
- Practice in a Pool - Obviously, it’s best to learn how to swim in the relative calm of your local pool. That’s a good place to start learning three key open water swimming skills: sighting, bilateral breathing, and a “choppy-water” freestyle.
- Don’t Go Alone - Let’s start with the obvious: Never swim in open water by yourself. Having a fellow swimmer is one way to fulfill this most-basic safety measure, but they will be of little help if you encounter an unexpected current or creature of the deep
- Know Your Currents - Swiftly moving water can pull you astray, potentially miles off-shore, off-target, or even underwater. In many popular open water swim locations, currents are infamous for their strength and speed. In other places, you may need to do some asking around to find out about water conditions, which can change hourly.
- Check the Water Temperature - Most pools are between 79 and 85 degrees. Most bodies of water are not that warm. Water that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t sound that cold (heck, your thermostat is set at 68), but it really is.
- Check the Weather - Many other weather factors can affect conditions in the water. Wind can create “chop,” or surface waves. Stormwater runoff can alter temperature and water clarity.
- Know Your Sea Creatures - Find out what creatures you are likely (or even unlikely) to encounter on your swim. Research if the bay is home to any sharks (some sharks are completely harmless to humans), jellyfish, or nettles.
- Have a "Plan A" - Figure out where you are planning to go on your swim. Is it point-to-point or an out-and-back adventure? How long? Whatever your answer, have a plan and know the route. Most importantly, familiarize yourself not only with water conditions, but also with the shoreline.
- Have a "Plan B" - Before you set off swimming, have a plan for exiting the water if conditions (or you) deteriorate. Expect that unexpected things may happen. No matter what happens, your plan B will help keep you safe.
- Check In with the Lifeguard - At some open water swimming areas, local jurisdictions have lifeguards on duty. Tell the lifeguards what you are doing. Not only might they be able to come to your rescue if you get caught in a current, but you’ll also ensure that they won’t come racing out to “save” you when they see you swimming somewhere they wouldn’t expect you to be.
- Keep It Simple - Even if you are feeling unafraid of the unpredictability of open water, take it easy on your first swim. Gain experience with some easy swims (back-and-forth along a lifeguarded beach, for example), so that when you encounter your first open-water problem/challenge, the stakes aren’t life-threateningly high.
Open water swimming can be safe and enjoyable if you follow these simple tips.