Swim England, British Triathlon and the Royal Life Saving Society UK publish safety advice for open water swimmers following the partial lifting of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England

Safety advice for open water swimmers has been published today by Swim England, British Triathlon and the Royal Life Saving Society UK following the government’s announcement that as of Wednesday 13 May, people will be allowed to spend more time outdoors for “leisure purposes” in England only – including open water swimming.

The bodies have collaborated to draw up the guidance that encourages people to take extra precautions when swimming in lakes, rivers or the sea.

The aim is to help prevent swimmers from getting into difficulties in open water and putting extra pressure on the emergency services.

The guidance sets out six key steps to consider before going on an open water swim at unsupervised locations:

  1. Never swim alone.

  2. Adhere to social distancing requirements throughout your swim, including arrival, changing and post swim.

  3. Let someone in your household know where you are, what you are doing and expected time to return.

  4. It is your responsibility that you are sufficiently fit and healthy to participate in open water swimming. You should think about any pre-existing medical conditions that you may have and if you are in any doubt, we recommend that you do not swim.

  5. In terms of sea swimming, there are no RNLI lifeguards operating presently. Volunteer lifeboat crews are fully operational but those partaking in sea swimming must understand the risks and take the necessary steps to keep themselves safe. This will help reduce the demand on lifeboat crews and other emergency services. Continue to look to the RNLI advice for sea swimming –

  6. Follow all the guidance outlined in the full document, which is available here: Covid-19 Guidance to Open Water Swimmers.

The full guidance includes: information on where to swim and accredited venues, assessing risk due to weather conditions and water temperature, advice on wetsuits and equipment, course planning and the safe entry and exit of the water and recovery and nutrition.

Advice for all swimmers regardless of experience

Jane Nickerson, Swim England Chief Executive, said: “It’s imperative that even the most seasoned of open water swimmers reads through this advice and follows it carefully.

“Not knowing the temperature of the water or how strong the current is could lead to swimmers struggling and in need of emergency help.

“That’s something we’re keen to avoid at all times but even more so in the current situation.”

Andy Salmon, Chief Executive of British Triathlon, said: “We would encourage anyone considering open water swimming over the coming weeks to think before doing so and read our advice very carefully.

“During these unprecedented times, it is vital that we think of others before ourselves and make sure we neither risk the spreading of the Covid-19 virus or place unnecessary burden on emergency services.

“We would also urge swimmers to comply with government guidance on social distance and travel.”

Don’t start now

Royal Life Saving Society UK Chief Executive Robert Gofton said: “We are extremely concerned that people will now rush to get into open water without proceeding with caution and understanding the potential life-threatening implications.

“If you are not used to swimming in open water, we strongly urge you NOT to start now unless you can do so under supervision and guidance.

“Open water sites, including beaches, are not currently supervised. There is no one to help you if you get in trouble and emergency services may not be able to get to you in time.

“Please stay sensible, know your limitations, and please enjoy the water, safely.”

The RNLI has warned that there are currently no lifeguards on beaches and anyone who goes sea swimming must “understand the risks and take the necessary steps to keep themselves safe.”

Meanwhile, the three organisations are also due to publish advice for venues on the safest way to operate in line with social distancing measures in the near future.

They are also encouraging people to use facilities as close to where they live as possible.

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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.