How To Keep Safe When Swimming in Open Water

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With warmer days ahead, it may be tempting to cool off by taking the plunge into open water. It can be a lot of fun but also very dangerous. If you’re tempted, you must know how to keep yourself safe.

Never swim alone

If you’re young or not a strong swimmer, you should go swimming with an adult who can keep an eye on you and take care of you. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble. You need to make sure that someone is with you at all times in open water so they can help if you get into trouble.

You shouldn’t drink alcohol and go swimming. Having a drink can cause you not to think clearly and can affect your ability to survive in the water.

Look for dangers

Beware of things in the water like debris, weeds and plants that you could get tangled up in. Diving in isn’t a good idea when you don’t know how deep it is or what dangers lurk beneath. Sometimes there will be safety signs or beach flags near the water – take notice!

Pollution in water might not be seen, but can cause rashes and make you ill. Think about how clean it is, especially if it is a river in a city. If you see green stuff floating on the surface of the water, keep away. This is called blue-green algae, and it often shows up after warm weather. You shouldn’t touch it, and definitely shouldn’t swim in it – it can make you ill.


One of the biggest dangers in open water is currents. These can be hidden underwater, seen on the surface or be hard to spot, like rip currents. Even a gentle current can knock you off your feet. Currents can be unpredictable. You can be dragged into deeper water. It is especially dangerous if you’re swimming near waterfalls, weirs (a barrier across the water) or obstacles. The temptation is trying to swim against the current to escape, which can tire you out quickly. Don’t thrash around; keep your energy. The best thing to do is wave your hand, shout for help, and try to float.

Cold water

Your body can react to cold water in a dangerous way. It can cause cramps which can affect your ability to swim. If you get too cold, it can cause hypothermia (which is a medical emergency). If you are shivering and your teeth are chattering, get out and warm up slowly by wrapping up or doing star jumps or press-ups.

Cold water shock can happen if the temperature in your body cools down too quickly, this forces the body to gasp for air, and it can cause your heart rate to rise. This can quickly turn dangerous and cause people to gulp in water and drown. You should let your body get used to the change in temperature slowly, by wading in and not diving in.

If you do get into difficulties because of cold water, hold your hand up and shout for help, float and keep calm until it passes, or until help comes. If possible, think about wearing a wetsuit. When taking part in water activities, like paddle boarding or kayaking – make sure you wear a life jacket. It will keep you afloat.

How to float to survive

The RNLI encourage people to float to survive. Thrashing about or trying to swim against currents can cause you to get tired very quickly and put you in danger of drowning. You should calmly lean back, stretch your arms and legs, and move them gently. Watch their video below to see how it’s done.

In an emergency

If you see anyone in danger in the water call 999 immediately and ask for help.

Related Information

This article was written by an advisor at Meic, the national information, advice, and advocacy helpline for children and young people in Wales.

If you’re looking for a good walk to do around Cardiff this summer, check out this blog.

Here are 7 ways to make the most out of your summer.

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