Swimming in the sea or ocean can be a lot of fun, but it is important not to forget the risks involved. Safety should always be a top priority, regardless of whether you're a seasoned sailor, a novice, a strong swimmer or not. By following a set of guidelines, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable swim in open water. In fact, experienced swimmers often have an even greater respect than most for the power of the sea, and that's definitely a good thing. In our guide, you'll learn how to approach open water swimming, whether you are diving into the water from a swim platform or from the shore.
What to consider when swimming in open water
Above all, you should know your limits and definitely not overestimate yourself. Swimming in open water, whether in the sea or the ocean, is different from swimming in a pool and waves and currents can be unpredictable. Therefore, it is very important to be honest with yourself about your swimming ability and how comfortable you feel, and only venture into open water when you are confident in our abilities.
You may be surprised to learn that you should swim in open water with a partner, not alone. The open water is unpredictable, so you should always swim in the company of at least one other person to make sure you can both keep an eye on each other. A swimming partner will both give you a sense of security and can be useful if one of you feels tired or gets cramp.
When swimming in open water, choose a safe spot that is well supervised area and avoid swimming in areas with strong currents, high waves or dangerous underwater conditions. Always prefer beaches or designated swimming areas with lifeguards and pay attention to warning signs or flags. It is also important to pay attention to the flags on the beach and follow the instructions provided by the beach staff or lifeguards. When in doubt, it is always best to exercise caution and not enter the water until conditions improve.
The open sea is unpredictable, so we should always swim in the company of at least one other person
YACHTING.COM TIP: During your travels abroad, you will have have probably noticed flags on beaches that inform you about the current sea state and possible dangers. These flags are usually colour coded and their exact meaning can vary depending on the region:
A green flag usually means the water is calm and it is safe to swim.
A yellow flag means there is a slight risk of swell or other hazards. Swimmers should take care and stay close to shore and at shallower depths.
A red flag indicates that sea conditions are dangerous and swimming is not recommended. This may be due to rough seas, strong currents or other dangerous conditions.
A double red flag indicates that the water is closed to swimmers due to extremely dangerous conditions such as rough weather, strong currents or other hazards.
A purple flag indicates that dangerous marine animals, such as jellyfish or sharks, may be in the water. Swimmers should use extra caution and follow other instructions from beach staff.
The colour of the flag informs us about the current state of the sea.
In general, you should pay sufficient attention to weather conditions when swimming in the sea. Before going swimming in the sea or ocean, check the weather forecast and look out for any warnings or cautions. Swimming in bad weather or storms should be avoided, but even in clear weather we should not ignore changing weather conditions and should be prepared to get out of the water if necessary.
Equipment and hydration — both essential but often overlooked
When swimming in the sea or ocean, it is important to wear the appropriate gear to protect us from the elements. Of course, we're not talking about typical beach swimwear, but rather something more suited to open water swimming. Especially in colder water, you should wear a wetsuit or at least a suit with a UV filter to protect your skin from burning, and goggles to protect your eyes from the salt water. If you are swimming in an area with strong ocean currents, consider using a swim buoy or other safety equipment to increase your visibility and buoyancy.
Equally important is hydration. Swimming alone in the sea or ocean can be dehydrating, so you should always remember to drink plenty of water and take frequent hydration breaks. Drinking salt water should definitely be avoided as it can be even more dehydrating.
Check out more articles about weather and safety on board:
YACHTING.COM TIP: You should always agree on signals with your sailing partner and know what to do in case of an emergency. Learn how to signal for help and make sure you and your swimming partner know basic first aid procedures. For example, diving signals or marine signals can help, but the most important thing to know is that you signal for help by waving one or both hands above your head. For more detailed information, take a look at — Man Over Board (MOB): a step-by-step guide.
And what about swimming while boating?
It's common for people to swim in the open water while sailing on a sailboat or catamaran and it's always necessary to check the weather forecast, as weather conditions can change quickly and unexpectedly. Before setting sail, know the current forecast for the area in which you will be sailing and refrain from sailing in bad weather or when storms are forecast. Knowledge of the ocean currents (check out our guide here) is also essential.
It is crucial to have the necessary safety equipment on board when sailing. Life jackets, flares, a first aid kit, and a fire extinguisher should always be present and checked regularly to ensure they are in good condition. In an emergency, these items can be the difference between life and death, so it's vital to carry them at all times.
When sailing in open water, following navigation rules is crucial for the safety of all on board. Being knowledgeable about navigation rules and aware of other vessels in the area is important before setting sail. To ensure safe navigation, it's essential to abide by navigation regulations and be aware of potential hazards like rocks, shoals, or other vessels. Utilizing charts, GPS, and other navigational aids can be helpful in ensuring a safe journey.
Remember to monitor fuel and supplies. It is always recommended to have extra supplies on board in case of an emergency and plan your route carefully, taking into account refuelling stops and rest areas.
Hydration and appropriate clothing are also essential when on the boat, just as they are when sailing on the open sea. Wear clothing that protects you from the sun and wind, and bring extra layers for cooler temperatures.
Last but not least, it's important to communicate with others and let someone know about your plans for the voyage. Inform someone of your itinerary, estimated time of arrival, and emergency contact information. This ensures that someone knows where you are and can alert the authorities if necessary.
Adequate and checked safety equipment, including life jackets, flares, first aid kit and fire extinguisher, must always be carried on board.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Life jackets are an essential safety feature that should be worn by all passengers on board. Life jackets come in a variety of sizes and designs, so it's important to choose one that fits well and is comfortable to wear. When choosing a life jacket, look for one that is approved by the relevant authorities and has good buoyancy. Life jackets should be worn at all times when on board or in the water and should be properly fastened so that they do not slip. For a more in-depth guide, check out our article — Life jacket: do you need your own?.
Staying safe in a current — tips for swimmers and sailors
When sailing and swimming in open water, it is very important to know how to act in ocean currents. Strong currents can be dangerous and it is important to know how to navigate them safely. When swimming in a current, it is important not to fight it, but rather to use it to your advantage. Instead, try to swim parallel to the shore until you are safely out of the current. If you are unable to swim out of the current, float on your back and wait for help. If you are swimming in the current, try to stay in deeper waters to avoid being pushed onto shallow rocks or reefs. If you still find yourself in a dangerous situation, it is a good idea to call for help. If you are swimming near a boat, there should always be someone on board.
It is also important for safety that someone stays on board the boat at all times. This person can keep an eye on the vessel to make sure it is safe, and can also serve as a lookout for other boats or hazards in the water, including providing assistance to a person who is in trouble. In addition, it is important to prepare a ladder or other means of getting back on board if someone is injured and falls overboard.
When swimming in a current, it is important not to fight against it, but rather to use it to your advantage.
The benefits and risks of swimmiing
Swimming is a great form of exercise and has numerous health benefits. It is a low impact exercise that helps to improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles and reduce stress. In addition, swimming is a great way to cool off in the hot summer months and can be a fun activity for people of all ages to enjoy.
However, swimming in open water can pose some risks that always need to be taken into account. In shallow waters, there is a risk of encountering a poisonous fish or being stung by jellyfish. It is important to educate yourself about the potential risks in the area where you are swimming and take appropriate precautions. Wearing protective gear such as wetsuits or swimming shoes can help minimize the risk of injury from contact with marine animals. Relatively common injuries are from lionfish or jellyfish, but stings and burns from coral are also very common. And please remember — do not touch anything underwater so as to preserve the delicate marine life.
Another potential risk when swimming in open water is encountering creatures such as sharks or killer whales. While attacks on humans are rare, it is important to be aware of the potential dangers and take precautions, such as avoiding swimming in areas where sharks frequent or swimming in groups. It is also important to avoid swimming near killer whales, which are known to be aggressive towards humans.
Swimming in open water or the ocean can present additional risks, including coral burns or injury from other sharp objects, overestimating your strength or swimming ability, and dehydration. Understand your limitations and avoid swimming in areas with strong currents or waves unless you are a proficient swimmer.
Jellyfish stings look painful. Vinegar or lemon can help.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If an injury occurs while swimming in open water or the ocean, seeking medical attention promptly is crucial. This can be more difficult in remote locations or areas without easy access to medical facilities. It is essential to plan ahead and be familiar with the location of medical facilities in the vicinity where you plan to swim.
To ensure safety while swimming in open water, it is important to follow specific safety guidelines. Swimmers must wear bright and distinctive swim caps to increase their visibility to boats and other swimmers. It is highly recommended that they do not swim alone and instead stay close to a safety boat or kayaker, who can provide support and guidance in open water. Additionally, swimmers should research water conditions such as currents, waves, and weather, especially for longer distances, and adapt their swimming accordingly.
To ensure safety on board, it is crucial to have enough life jackets for all passengers, including children, and to designate a responsible adult as a boat attendant who has completed a safety course. Carrying a communication device such as a radio or telephone is also essential for summoning help in an emergency. Before setting off on a trip, it is important to check all safety equipment and discuss a safety plan with the crew so that everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency.
If you stick to these safety guidelines, you can ensure a memorable and a safe experience when sailing and swimming.