When warmer weather arrives, many of us feel the urge to cool off with a refreshing dip at the nearest pool, pond or beach.
A paddle is a pleasant way to beat the heat, it can boost your health too.
“The benefits of swimming and dipping in open water are well documented,” says Lee Heard, charity director at Royal Life Saving Society UK.
“Not only does being in or on open water allow new adventure, it also has documented benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing.”
“Many of us only swim outdoors during the summer season,” says Ella Foote, founder of The Dip Advisor and author of How to Wild Swim: What to Know Before Taking the Plunge.
But just because the sun is out doesn’t mean wild swimming is less dangerous, she says: “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.”
These are the safety considerations to take into account before deciding whether to wade in…
Look for lifeguards
“There are a great number of open-water sites which are lifeguarded and we would urge people to go to lifeguarded venues if they are looking to take part in open-water swimming,” says Heard.
“Lifeguards are trained professionals who can ensure your safety whilst out on the water and provide assistance should you need it,” Heard continues.
Check the conditions
If you’re swimming somewhere without a lifeguard, you must be aware of the potential risks. "If swimmers are aware of the potential risks and dangers, then this enables them to do a risk assessment before entering the water,” says Heard.
Risks to consider include: “The depth of the water – this changes and is unpredictable; underwater objects and hazards may not be visible; strong currents can rapidly sweep people away; and uneven banks and river beds.”
“If you plan a river swim it is worth remembering that water travels faster when a river is shallow, narrow or after spells of heavy rain,” she adds.
Know your limits
“Can you tread water while keeping your head above the water? Can you float on your back? Could you swim 25 meters without stopping?” asks Foote.
“These are the very basic skills for keeping yourself safe in open water and if you are unsure – don’t get in.”
While it can be tempting to plunge in on a hot day, never jump or dive without testing the water first.
“Enter within your depth and get a feel for the water before swimming,” Foote continues.
“Ensure you know where you plan to get out before getting in, sometimes it is easier to get in the water than get out.”
And always 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. Outdoor swimming is joyful, but be safe.”
Beware of the cold
“The shock of cold water can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty in getting out of the water,” Heard says, even during hot weather when water temperatures are rising.
“The water will always be cooler than your core body temperature, so you will experience a gasp and chill on entry,” says Foote.
“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.
“This is also true in coastal areas – the sea is still cool at this time of year.”
Take the right kit
Depending on the weather and water temperature, you may need more than just a bikini or shorts for your swim.
“We always recommend going swimming with a friend, wearing appropriate clothing such as a wetsuit, a tow float and a bright-coloured swimming hat,” says Heard, so that you’re more visible if you need help.
And don’t forget that while a rush of endorphins can help when you’re in the water, you may feel more chilly once you get out.
Heard adds: “It’s vital to also ensure that when you get out you have appropriate clothing to keep you warm after the swim.”