It doesn’t matter what stroke you swim, how fast or slow you are, or how ungainly your technique is as long as you can move forward at a sustainable effort level.

Remember that it is not just your swimming ability that’s important. Swimming outdoors is more difficult and tiring than swimming in a pool. Experience counts for a lot, as does common sense. It is always better to underestimate your abilities and stay safe. So here's what you need to know before you take those first steps into the open water.


There are several options here. Choose according to convenience or what you think you might enjoy the most.

A Lifeguarded Beach

Swimming at lifeguarded beaches is often quite limited as the designated area is usually small and you may end up sharing the space with body boarders and surfers. However, these spots are supervised and there are people on hand to help should you get into difficulty. For your first swim, stay between the flags and within your depth if possible. 

Remember that there may be waves, chop, and sometimes you might need to swim against a current. Conditions can be very changeable so sea swims are the most likely to be postponed or cancelled in bad weather. There’s also the chance of an encounter with jellyfish or other marine life. Salt water causes more chafing so you need to protect your skin, especially if you wear a wetsuit. Despite this, there is something especially invigorating and exciting about swimming in the ocean. Sea water is often cleaner than river and lake water and the added buoyancy due to the salt can help you swim faster.

A Commercial Open Water Swimming Venue

Commercial open water swimming venues first appeared in the UK about 15 to 20 years ago to meet demand from triathletes looking to train. Often, the majority of swimmers at these locations are wetsuited triathletes and swim routes are designed to meet their needs. It typically costs between £5 to £10 per swim. In exchange for your cash you get a supervised swim with on-water safety cover, a marked-out swim route to follow over a specified distance (e.g. 400m, 750m) and, sometimes, showers and changing facilities. Good venues will give you some induction training and a swimming test before setting you loose. Some also have coached sessions, usually with an extra charge.


Open water events can be great fun so long as you are prepared. Make your first outdoor swim an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Take your time entering the water and getting used to it. If it’s your first swim in a wetsuit, get used to how it feels in the water before attempting any serious swimming. Stay close to the bank or shore so you can easily get out or put your feet down if you want to. Have someone swim next to you whose priority is to support you. Only strike out on a longer swim once you are completely comfortable and then finish before you’re exhausted. Leave yourself wanting more - not swearing never to do it again.

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