Thanet RNLI Community Safety

Open Water Swimming – Discover how to keep safe whilst enjoying your swimming

Open Water Swimming in lakes, rivers and at the coast has really taken off in the last few years  (particularly during the last year and in lockdown) and it is one of the largest growing sports in the UK. Swimmers tell us that it can significantly boost their mental wellbeing, fitness levels, mood, it’s highly invigorating, improves circulation and immune systems.

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Why Should You Be Extra Specially Careful This Year If You Are Thinking Of Taking A Festive Dip

RNLI lifeboat stations, the RLSS (UK Royal Life Saving Society) and their affiliated lifesaving clubs, in common with many other charitable organisations, have cancelled their very popular festive swimming events due to COVID-19 safety considerations. Also taking into account the responsibility to ensure that  blue light emergency services are not called out needlessly and the impact on the National Health Service is managed.

 

The RNLI and RLSS  are urging anyone who does venture into the sea or other open water locations over the Christmas and New Year period to be aware of the risks and enjoy themselves as safely as possible.

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Margate’s Mersey All Weather lifeboat Photo credit: Sarah Hewes

The RNLI and HM Coastguard have both been busy responding to incidents involving swimmers this winter.

Earlier in December the Portishead lifeboat crew rescued a swimmer who had been in the sea for 80 minutes, while Sunderland lifeboat pulled another to safety after spotting him in the rough conditions thanks to his bright orange swimming cap and tow float.

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Have Emergency call-outs to swimming related incidents increased?

HM Coastguard have reported a 79.8%* increase in emergency call-outs for swimming related incidents year-on-year between January and November, compared to the same period in 2019.

Lee Heard, RLSS UK – Director, said: ‘While festive dips are an increasingly popular tradition with brave bathers in plummeting temperatures, we are concerned that with the cancellation of well organised and lifeguarded events combined with a rise in open water swimming participation this year that individuals may still choose to dip this festive period.

 

‘We simply urge swimmers to stay safe, be prepared and consider their actions on our already stressed emergency services, including the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews.’

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Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water which is 15°C or below, with the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland at this time of year just 6-10°C – which also poses a risk of hypothermia, even for the most experienced of open water swimmers.

RNLI Water Safety Partner Samantha Hughes said: ‘No one goes into the water in the expectation of needing to be rescued but we are asking anyone considering going for a festive dip to understand the dangers and not take unnecessary risks so they can have a good time, safely.

‘We recommend checking with your doctor before trying a cold water dip for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.

‘It is important to respect the water and there are a number of things you can do to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time such as not swimming alone, staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards which sounds obvious but is crucial to avoid any delayed effects of the cold and hypothermia.

 

‘The most important thing to remember is if you are in any doubt, stay out of the water and if you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’

 

What top safety tips should I follow if I intend going for a festive dip?
  • How can I be prepared? Check the weather forecast, tides and wave height
  • What should I take with me? Plenty of warm clothes for use pre and post dip. A nice hot drink in a flask such as soup, tea or maybe a hot chocolate will assist in warming you up afterwards.
  • What ‘calling for help device’ should I take : a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch.
  • Should I wear a wetsuit? Yes, this will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering from cold water shock
  • Should I go with a friend? If at all possible, if you can’t go to a familiar bathing spot and tell someone when you plan to be back
  • What happens if I jump straight into the water?  This could lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly. acclimatise slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming
  • Should I wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float?  Yes, always wear one that is brightly coloured and a tow float is highly recommended.
  • How deep should I go? Know your limits and don’t stay in the water for more than 10 minutes
  • I have heard of ‘float to live’ what does it mean? – If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing. This is what the RNLI call ‘Float to Live’.
  • What number and who do I call if I get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble?  Dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately ask for the Coastguard giving as accurate location as possible
  • If I am in any doubt what should I do? There is always another day to go for a swim, if you have any doubts stay out of the water

Thank you for reading and stay safe!

 

Other useful links

Professor Mike Tipton – How to survive cold water shock

Sign-up to our newsletter

Ant Middleton – cold water shock

Demystifying rip currents

Margate Lifeboat

Ramsgate Lifeboat

Acknowledgements

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

HM Coastguard (HMCG)

Royal Lifesaving Society (RLSS)

Professor Mike Tipton – Portsmouth University