When it comes to your River Safety Routine, and asking yourself ‘is wild swimming is safe?’, there are some obvious hazards and dangers to look out for. Before you enter the water, you need to make sure that you are confident in your swimming abilities, that the water is clean and that the spot you have chosen is safe. It can seem like there are an endless number of factors to consider, but once you’ve got an established swimming spot, you will take to your River Safety Routine like a duck to water!
According to a new research report from Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen program, it’s important to be aware of, and talk to your children about, the below of swimming in lakes and rivers.
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do:
1. Be aware of your own swimming abilities
Unlike a pool, open water is not labelled as a ‘shallow end’, making it difficult to know if kids are getting into water that is over their heads. If you are not comfortable with how deep the water is getting, then stick to shallower waters. Always check the depth of the water, even if you visit the same spot regularly. Depths can vary and new underwater obstructions (sand, rocks, branches, rubbish) may have been brought downstream or tipped in. With no awareness of how deep the water is, it really isn’t the brightest of ideas to go star-jumping or diving into it - a broken neck from a diving accident could paralyse you for life. Whilst waterfalls are stunning to look at, they won’t be kind to you if you jump into the landing area of a large waterfall. The undercurrents directly below a large waterfall or weir could hold you under and you may not surface.
2. Wear goggles where possible
Water in the sea can lead to limited visibility. If the water is clean, and it's safe to dip your head under, take extra precautions and wear goggles where possible, and only take a dip if there are signs around saying it is safe to do so. Do not ignore the ‘NO SWIMMING’ signs.
3. Keep your head above the water if unsure about the cleanliness
Snails, rats and algae can breed and release parasites into open water, which can lead to bacterial infections like Leptospirosis and ‘Swimmer’s itch’, also known as cercarial dermatitis. In humid, stuffy conditions, algae can multiply and a powdery, green scum (the blooms) can collect on the downwind side of a lake. Be careful not to swallow the water, keep your head above the water, and cover up over any open wound with a waterproof plaster. Never swim in urban rivers, particularly canals, and be particularly cautious after heavy rains. If you get sick after swimming in a river, or develop flu or jaundice-like symptoms three to fourteen days after, ask your doctor for a Leptospirosis test. It is simply treated with antibiotics but if left it can develop into the more serious Weil’s disease, which has been known to kill.
4. Take precautions if swimming alone
Wear a life jacket or trail a float behind you on a cord if you choose to front crawl and breaststroke solo for the day. If you get a leg cramp, shout for help, and lie on your back and paddle back to shore with your arms before the pain becomes overwhelming.
5. Take note of water temperature
Open water is usually colder than water in a pool, which can affect swimming ability. According to Avon Fire and Rescue Service, cold water removes heat from the body 32 times faster than cold air causing cold shock - gasping, cramps, inhalation of water, heart attack, stroke and rapid drowning. The shock felt from hitting cold water can result in shock, which can lead to panic, hyperventilating, and even drowning. Don't be fooled by the sweltering weather - dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature.
Hypothermia can be an issue for swimming in lower temperatures. Here are a few ways to spot the signs:
- Strange inebriated-like behaviour
- Slurred speech
- Blue-grey skin
- Slow or halted breathing
- Loss of consciousness
1. Kick or thrash if you encounter weeds or underwater obstructions
For swimming in rivers that are not signposted as safe to swim in, but also in other types of open water, you need to be aware of the spaghetti-like weeds lurking beneath your feet. They could snake around your ankles or up your and pull you under, causing swimmer’s to panic. If you do encounter some, slow your swim speed right down, don’t kick or thrash, and either float on through using your arms to paddle, or turn around slowly.
2. Run around or near a lake or river
One of the most common dangers of swimming in a lake and outdoor swimming are the slippery rocks which make it too easy to lose your footing. Never run because you do not want to risk hitting your head. Go barefoot to get a better grip or wear plimsolls with a rubber sole. If you enjoy more serious scrambling, why not join a gorge-walking or canyoneering course? A head injury while in or near water could be fatal if you pass out in the water.
3. Swim in high-speed rivers
Rapid currents in rivers, lakes and streams can be fast-moving and catch you off guard. While some strong currents such as rapids are visible, others can be hidden in plain sight and flow under the water’s surface. Heavy rain, storms and overflowing rivers can create strong currents, so be aware of man-made storm channels and reservoirs that can be empty one minute and full of water in the blink of an eye.
By taking all the right precautions and wearing the right swimming gear for outdoor swimming and more technical watersports, you can continue to enjoy swimming responsibly. Curious about trying some? View our range of kayaks and boat paddles here.