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Safety Tips for Open Water Swimming

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Safety Tips for Open Water Swimming

Open-water swimming is, as we say, a whole different animal. While training in a pool is often times more convenient and is necessary for interval training, those training for an open water swim should attempt at least a few open-water training swims before a race. Here is what you need to know to stay safe and get the most out of your open water swims.

Never Swim Alone- While it may be difficult to find like-minded individuals to spend a Saturday morning braving the algae levels in the local lake with you, the presence of a swim buddy will keep you accountable. Additionally, the added visibility will keep you safer from boat traffic. Even better yet is either a powered boat or a kayak to act as a support craft. The crafts, which sit higher in the water, reduce the danger of boat traffic. An added bonus of a support craft is that it can carry bottled water and some sort of food (e.g., gel packet) to keep you hydrated and fueled.

Always Swim Parallel to and Near the Shoreline- If you swim parallel to the shoreline you will never be far from land in the event that you tire or have a panic attack (not uncommon among beginning open water swimmers). Also, boat traffic is generally limited close to shore. If there is a “No Wake Zone” where boats are required to keep speeds to a minimum, stick to this area. Keep in mind that swimmers can disappear from a boat operator’s view behind a wave or swell.



Beat The Morning Traffic-With the exception of fishermen and water skiers; most boaters will wait until early afternoon to push off the dock. Try to swim early in the morning so that you can finish up before their boats are even loaded. While swimming in the dark is almost never recommended, there are circumstances when it can be beneficial to a swimmer that might have a night-swimming portion of his or her race (think ultra-marathon swims). If this is the case, training in the dark is highly recommended to acclimate the swimmer to the anxiety that may accompany the situation. Glow sticks should be attached to the swimmer’s swimsuit and goggle straps for added visibility.

Be Prepared- The unique qualities of open-water call for some slight gear changes. A mirrored goggle will protect eyes from the sun, and sunscreen is a must. The swimmer should wear a bright colored (yellow or orange are great choices) swim cap to increase visibility. Thinner straps on swimsuits are preferable to thicker ones for chaffing reasons. For use with a regular swimsuit, Vaseline or an anti-chaffing product should be applied under the straps of the suit, the underarms, and even the back of the next. If a wetsuit is necessary, take care to apply the anti chaffing product liberally and make sure the wetsuit fits properly. An ill-fitting wetsuit worn for even a short period of time can leave a swimmer bloodied.

Whenever swimming in open water, safety is the number one priority. Do not hesitate to abort a swim if you feel it is not safe. Weather conditions can change in an instant and careless boat operators make the waters unsafe for everyone. Always be alert and look around as you look for and listen for watercraft. Use caution, but don’t forget to take in all the beautiful and meditative qualities of open water.

Written by Mallory Mead

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