Keep your cool: how to stay safe when wild swimming in a heatwave

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Can you swim? Seems like an obvious question when talking about safety in open water, but it is crucial. Many lose their life swimming because they don’t have the basic skills to keep themselves safe. Heatwaves entice us to the water, it is human to want to plunge in to cool off, and many only swim outdoors when the weather hits a summer high.

Learning to swim at some point in your life isn’t enough and being a fit, healthy person on dry land isn’t the same as being water fit.

Ask yourself, how comfortable are you out of your depth? Can you tread water while keep your head above the water? Can you float on your back? Could you swim 25 metres without stopping to put your feet down?

These are the basic swimming skills that could save your life, so if you are unsure, don’t get wet, however hot it is!

While many roll their eyes at the term “wild swimming”, swimming outdoors is wild. Swimming in a lake, river or in the sea presents risk, which you need to assess. As well as obvious hazards such as weeds and wildlife, you should also consider tides, currents and obstructions. The best thing to take with you to the water is simple knowledge and basic common sense.

Beachgoers paddle in the sea in Brighton.
Beachgoers paddle in the sea in Brighton. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock

Is it cold?

Water temperatures in rivers, lakes and coastal areas are warmer than usual at the moment but are always cooler than your core body temperature, so you will feel that on entry. Take it slow, water can fool you. While it might be warm in the shallows, in deeper water it will be cold at the bottom and that can feel very different when jumping in, which can cause cold water shock and be fatal.

Tides and currents

If you are visiting the coast, find a lifeguarded beach, if possible. If you choose something more remote, just check a few things before you leave. The weather is more changeable in coastal areas, wind can make a huge difference to the sea and how it behaves. Check the tide times and any known offshore currents.


Water travels faster when a river is shallow or narrow. You might not always be able to see a narrow riverbed though, so enter in your depth and get a feel of the water. Ensure you know where you are getting out before you get in, sometimes it is easier to get in the water than get out!

Related: Wild swimming with a backpack? Welcome to cross country swimming

Lakes, reservoirs, and quarries

As a rule, avoid reservoirs and quarries. More often than not, they are private facilities and are not designed for leisure activities. Lakes in national parks across the UK are wonderful. There is an abundance of advice, guides and books that can help you choose a safe spot to swim. There are also lakes that offer lifeguards.

Trust your instincts

If you’re at the water and something doesn’t feel right, trust that. If the water doesn’t look or smell right, don’t get in. If you think jumping off that bridge isn’t smart, don’t do it. Outdoor swimming is joyful, but be safe.