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Beginners Guide to Open Water Swimming!

The weather is warming nicely and so is the water, you may be thinking of dipping your toes in open water for the first time since you were a kid! Open water swimming, wild swimming or outdoor swimming has become an increasingly popular pastime for many. So if you are thinking of finding out why so many people are taking to the water but are not sure where to start, below are some hints and tips to help you out!

When to start?

When it comes to starting your journey into swimming outside there are no rules, spring / summer is a great time to plunge in and then continue into the winter months. It is worth noting that although we are entering the summer months, UK water is still cold.

See the average temperature table below for a bit of context:

Average UK water temperatures

Winter sea temperatures 5 - 10 degrees

Summer sea temperatures 15 - 20 degrees

Winter freshwater temperatures0 - 10 degrees

Summer freshwater temperatures 12 - 18 degrees

Starting your journey during the winter months may have more challenges so check out my article on winter swimming

Regardless of when you decide to start your journey it is a good idea to learn the risks involved so you can love the water safely!

Where can you swim?

Lochs / lakes, rivers, lidos or the sea are all places that you can swim. Each location will give you a different experience and come with a range of things that you will need to consider before, during and after your swims. There are a variety of guidebooks for open water swimming with plenty of information.

Some basic points you will need to consider for your swim will be:

  • Weather conditions

  • Entry and exit points

  • Flow, tides, currents, water flow

  • Water quality

  • Water temperature

  • Access

Check out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for more information on access to swim spots:

Where can I find people to go swimming with?

Facebook is a great place to start looking for local open water swimming groups or The Outdoor Swimming Society has a list of local groups:

Local swimming groups will have specific information about places to go for your swim and typical safety or access issues with each spot.

How good of a swimmer do I need to be to swim outdoors?

In short you don’t need to be an elite swimmer but it is important that you are confident out of your depth and you can get yourself in and out of the water safely.

Good skills to have in open water are:

  • Ability to swim confidently in your chosen stroke

  • Be able to tread water

  • Be able to float on your back

  • Be comfortable with water being splashed on your face

If you are not sure about your skills as a swimmer then seeking out a fully qualified and insured open water swimming coach will be beneficial.

Outdoor swimmer have a coach finder with a list of coaches from all around the UK:

What kit do I need?

Open Water swimming kit can be as simple or as technical as you want to make it. Check out my previous article on must have kit for open water swimming :

Top Tip: Add your in case of emergency information to your tow float!

How to enter the water?

As tempting as it may be, avoid jumping or diving straight into open water, this is due to the possibility of cold water shock. Cold water shock is the body's natural response to immersing cold water and can result in involuntary gasping. The effect can last anything from 30 second to 2-3 minutes. Choose an entry spot where the water entry is a gentle slope rather than a sudden drop! Focus on your breathing (in and out) if you're with others, chat or sing to each other to help with that. Ensure your breathing is relaxed and calm before setting off for a swim.

How long should I stay in the water for?

Starting off gradually is a must. Set the expectation for your first few swims in open water to only last 2-3 minutes and build up slowly from there! And remember everyone is different and what works for one swimmer may not be for you so go at your own pace!

Warming up afterwards:

Once you are finished swimming, get dressed quickly! Your body will continue to cool afterwards so it is important to get dressed in warm layers as quickly as possible and have a warm (not boiling hot) drink handy too!


Check, Clean and Dry off all of your kit. This is to avoid non-native species contaminating other swim spots. If you are planning to swim in more than one location on the same day try and have separate kit for each place!

Love Water Safely!

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