A bit of planning goes a long way to making open water swimming safer and more fun. A lot will depend on the location, but here’s some things to consider if you are swimming along a length of coastline.
Know your swimming speed and stamina:
know how far you can swim in say 30 minutes, and how long you can sustain this pace for, then plan a swim within your abilities always keeping a bit in reserve in case of the unexpected.
Check an up to date weather forecast:
Swimming is much nicer in sunshine, but also pay attention to the wind as this will have a big effect on the water state, check out my guide to swimming in wind. Additionally low pressure systems can make tides much bigger (and their resultant currents).
Check tide times:
Also consider looking up a tidal atlas or talking to a responsible seaman to get a good understanding of tidal streams. As the tide moves around our coast it creates strong currents generally flowing along the coast. Knowing what direction the water is moving in, and when it will change direction will help you plan a safe swim, and allow you to get back to your starting point or target destination.
Plan your exit:
Make sure that will have a safe exit at the end of your swim, and don’t get tricked by changes in the tide which could make some exits unsafe. Its also a good idea to know safe exits along the length of your swim to be used in case of emergency or fatigue. Swimming along a sandy bay is a good option as you can generally get out at any point.
Think about nutrition:
For swims over one hour nutrition becomes really important, making sure that you are getting enough fluids on board, and enough calories. If you’ve got a support crew then great, if your on your own then find a way to carry the essentials with you. If you are just going for a short swim then having a light snack and pre-hydrating before leaving is a good idea.