If you’re walking near a dazzling lake on a hot day, it can be tempting to jump in for a swim. But, swimming in open water can be dangerous, and there are several things you need to take into account before you take the plunge.
1. Check the current – Before swimming in open water, you need to check the current. To do this, you can throw a stick or branch into the water, and if it floats off faster than you can swim, then you'll struggle to beat the current upstream and you should avoid the water.
2. Assess the area – Before entering the water, check for obstructions that could pose a danger. It could be natural barriers like reeds or man-made rubbish and debris.
3. Plan several exit points – You also need to look out for several places you can get out, should you need to exit fast. Riverbanks can often get muddy and be slippery, making your exit harder.
4. Gauge the depth – If you want to jump or dive into a body of water, then you need to check the depth. The best way to do this is by getting into the water and checking whether you can touch the ground or how deep it gets.
5. Dress appropriately for the conditions – When new to cold water swimming, it’s best to wear a wetsuit until you acclimatise. Cold water shock can occur when the water temperature falls below 15°. It weakens your arms and legs, making it harder to swim. In extreme conditions, you may also want to consider wearing a swimming hat and special wetsuit gloves or socks.
6. Cover any open wounds – Open water can be polluted, so it’s important to protect yourself from infection by covering any open wounds with a water-resistant plaster.
7. Don’t stray too far – Know your limits and stick to them. Open water isn’t the place to push yourself, it's best to stay close to the edge of the river or lake or the shore to reduce your risk.
8. Know the signs of hypothermia – If you start feeling foggy or get excessively tired, your teeth start chattering or you’re shivering, you need to get out of the water, remove your wet things and warm yourself up with gentle exercise. A brisk walk will usually do the trick.
9. Swim with someone else or let someone know that you plan on going swimming and how long you’ll be. If you don't return at the allotted time, they can raise the alarm and make sure help comes as soon as possible.
10. Never be tempted to drink alcohol when going swimming. It impairs your judgement and coordination, which is never a good combination in the water.