STA Open Water Swimming Advice

From Garry Seghers, STA Open Water Swimming Tutor

Open Water Safety Code

Spot the Dangers

Take care, open water can be hazardous. Open water will always present a risk of drowning and injuries can occur from diving into unknown water or into waves and hitting the bottom, or from misuse of equipment.

Take Care When Swimming

Never swim after a heavy meal or after alcohol. Be especially careful if you have a medical condition such as epilepsy, asthma, diabetes or a heart condition. Never swim alone. Never swim in unsupervised areas.

Check New Places

Every open water venue is different; if it is tidal always make sure you know how far the tide moves in and out and what time high tide is to avoid the potential of being cut off. Check for other hazards such as rip currents, lateral currents and steep slopes into deeper water etc.

Take Safety Advice

Special flags and notices may warn you of danger. Know what the signs mean and do what they tell you. Always do as the lifeguards say and remember that a moment of foolish behaviour can cost a life.

Look Out for Yourself and Other Swimmers

It is safer to swim with a companion. Keep an eye open for others, if you see somebody in difficulty get help immediately. In an emergency, keep calm and do exactly as you are told. If you are in the water do not panic raise one arm and wait until the Lifeguards sees you.

Learn How to Help

You may be able to help yourself and others if you know what to do in an emergency; contact your local swimming, lifesaving and first aid organisations for further information.

Top 5 Open Water Mistakes

  1. Wetsuits – wearing the wrong type, wetsuits are used for various water sport activities, choose a wetsuit designed specifically for open water swimming or triathlon swimming that is a snug fit.
  2. Not acclimatising – the temperature in UK open water venues is not the same as swimming in your local swimming pool. Even in a wetsuit you will still need to spend some time adjusting to the temperature. If possible walk into the water, submerge to the neck and pull away to allow water into the suit. Practice putting your face into the water and rhythmically breathing before the start of a race.
  3. Using the swim as the warm up – even if the open water swim seems very short compared to the distances for the other events, proper preparation for the swim is still important, follow a systematic stretching and joint mobility routine.
  4. Head down and go for it – with open water swimming there are no lane ropes or lane lines on the bottom that you see in a swimming pool. It is important to frequently look where you are going. Do not rely on other swimmers doing this for you; it is easy to swim off-course.
  5. Over estimating your own ability and under estimating the conditions – swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in your local swimming pool. Don’t just turn up and jump in, we recommend a training session with an experience Open Water Swimming Coach.

Top 10 Swim Training Tips

  1. Training in open water – be safe, be seen – wetsuits tend to be black and the majority of a swimmers body is in the water so wear a bright hat, bright yellow is the best colour for high visibility. Also bright orange tow-floats are available from
  2. Practice hand sculling technique with bent elbow to improve feel for the water – using a pull buoy between your legs, lay on the front, arms just in front of shoulders, elbows bent, forearms vertically hanging down, fingers point to pool floor, rotate wrists to generate propulsion.
  3. Practice deep water starts – maintain a horizontal position by sculling hands and gently kicking legs, mentally countdown to ‘Go’ then vigorously kick legs and move into full stroke sprint for a short distance.
  4. Practice leg kicking drills – often front crawl swimmers forget our legs, a strong leg kick at the start to get you going, at the turns to prevent other competitors swimming over you, at the end of the swim to get the circulation pumping in the legs ready for the bike ride.
  5. Practice breathing on both sides – you do not have to breath alternately from one side to the other, but being able to breathe to either side is useful in open water, especially in wavy conditions.
  6. Practice catch up arm action – if you are not a strong swimmer this can be done using a kickboard, one catches up to the other before you start the next stroke, this allows time to concentrate on your individual arm action.
  7. Practice sighting – being able to lift the head and look forward without stopping is an advantage in open water.
  8. Practice turns – in open water there aren’t any pool ends to touch and push off, there will probably be large inflatable buoys to swim round, so practicing swimming round a floating object is useful.
  9. Practice drafting – with open water swimming you are not in separate lanes so it is possible to using the drafting technique by swimming on another competitors heels and being pulled along.
  10. Most important practice taking off your wetsuit – so much time can be gained by the efficient removal of your wetsuit; it is well worth the time and effort in perfecting this skill.
Swimming Teaching, Water Safety, Health & Wellbeing

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