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Tips On Keeping Safe In Open Water

There’s nothing better in hot weather than swimming in cool water, and having fun with friends and family. But open water can be dangerous and it’s really important that you know how to keep yourself safe and what to do if things go wrong. Here’s Meic’s advice.

I ddarllen yr erthygl hon yn Gymraeg, clicia yma

Never swim alone

If you’re young, or you’re not a strong swimmer, then you should go with an adult that can keep an eye and take care of you. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble. You need to make sure that someone is with you at all times in open water as nobody can help if you get into trouble.

You shouldn’t drink alcohol and go swimming. Having a drink can cause you not think clearly and it can affect your ability to survive in the water.

Girl with sunglasses swimming in the pool for water safety article

Look for dangers

Beware of things in the water like debris or weeds and plants that you could get tangled up in. It isn’t a good idea to dive in when you don’t know how deep it is or what dangers lurk beneath. Sometimes there will be safety signs or beach flags near water – take notice!

Pollution in water might not be seen but it can cause rashes and make you ill. Think about how clean it is, especially if it is a river in a city. If you see green stuff floating on the surface of the water then keep away. This is called blue-green algae and it often shows up after warm weather. You shouldn’t touch it, and definitely shouldn’t swim in it, it can make you ill.


One of the biggest dangers in open water is currents. These can be hidden underwater, seen on the surface or be hard to spot, like rip currents. Even a gentle current can knock you off your feet. Currents can be unpredictable. You can be dragged into deeper water. It is especially dangerous if you’re swimming near waterfalls, weirs (a barrier across the water) or obstacles. The temptation is to try and swim against the current to escape, but this can tire you out quickly. Don’t thrash around, keep your energy. The best thing to do is wave your hand and shout for help and try to float.

Cold water

Your body can react to cold water in a dangerous way. It can cause cramps, that can affect your ability to swim, and if you get too cold it can cause hypothermia (which is a medical emergency). If you find yourself shivering and your teeth chattering, get out and warm up slowly by wrapping up or doing star jumps or press ups.

Cold water shock can happen if the temperature in your body cools down too quickly, this forces the body to gasp for air and it can cause your heart rate to rise. This can quickly turn dangerous and cause people to gulp in water and drown. You should let your body get used to the change in temperature slowly, by wading in and not diving in.

If you do get into difficulties because of cold water, hold your hand up and shout for help, float and keep calm until it passes, or until help comes. If possible, think about wearing a wetsuit. When taking part in water activities, like paddle boarding or kayaking – make sure you wear a life jacket. It will keep you afloat.

How to float to survive

The RNLI encourage people to float to survive. Thrashing about or trying to swim against currents can cause you to get tired very quickly and put you in danger of drowning. You should calmly lean back, stretch your arms and legs out and move them gently. Watch their video below to see how it’s done.

In an emergency

If you see anyone in danger in the water call 999 immediately and ask for help.

Want to talk?

If you need to talk confidentially about anything that’s worrying you, then Meic is here to listen and offer advice every day between 8am and midnight. Text, Call or chat to us online.