As the weather warms up, many triathletes are beginning to include a weekly open water swim session in their training. While open water swimming is fun and has many benefits for triathletes, it can also be dangerous. Here’s a quick list of safety measures you should follow for the best open water swimming experiences this summer.
Check the water quality
Cities’ websites will often have a page that indicates water quality and temperatures in the summer for popular open water swim spots (for example, City of Toronto thoroughly updates swimming conditions at popular beaches across the city throughout the summer). Before heading out, check the water quality the day of your swim sessions as conditions can change quickly, especially after large rainfalls. Water quality tests should include pH and E. coli levels.
Be sure to also check the water for visible hazards. If there’s no lifeguard on duty, this is the swimmer’s responsibility. Visible hazards include motor vehicles such as boats but also debris and unusual substances in the water. Pay attention to any signs on the beach about swimming.
Open water swimming is always better with a training partner. Even the strongest swimmers should head out with someone (or better yet, a group), as weather, water traffic and water currents can change quickly. Accidents are best avoided when everyone has an eye on each other and swimmers stay close to shore for easiest access to help if needed.
Even if you can’t swim with someone, having a buddy spot you from the shore or a kayak is much safer than swimming alone, no matter the conditions.
Use the right equipment
A wetsuit will keep you warm and add buoyancy in the water which is helpful on long swims, but a wetsuit with colourful accents will also help you stay visible in the water. Daniel Clarke recommends is lime-green Dare2Tri wetsuit for this reason, but there are several wetsuits on the market that offer a similar design. A brightly coloured swim cap, such as the ones you’ll receive at a race, helps in this area too.
Check out other safety products that are available to open water swimmers, such as inflatable swim aids — some of these even have compartments to bring along key items while you swim.