Safety and Wild Swimming

More and more people are swimming in open water during the summer months – find out what you club can do to reduce the associated risks at your club…

Wild Swimming is simply swimming in open water in both organised and spontaneous events. This is becoming increasingly popular and this is the time of year when we can expect a peak in activity.

The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) organises events and publishes a calendar on its website at Experience at some rowing clubs shows that these events are well organised and safe. The OSS is not a small organisation; it has 16,000 newsletter subscribers; for comparison British Rowing has around 32,000 individual members. There is also useful information at

Perhaps the spontaneous events are of more concern. These involve small groups of people, or perhaps only one person, deciding to go for a swim. The very nature of this activity is that it is adventurous and individualistic, it does not lend itself to organisation and control, or to pre-planning. Spontaneous Wild Swimmers may not consider their own safety and the potential effects other water users can have on them.

Clearly, there is a potential for boats, including rowing boats to collide with swimmers. The OSS website offers safety advice to swimmers on its website. It recommends that swimmers always wear brightly coloured swimming caps but spontaneous swimmers may not always do so.

So what can you do to reduce risk? How about:

  • Always keep a good lookout for swimmers both in the water and on the bank
  • Avoid passing close to the swimmers that you have seen, there may be more nearby that you have not seen
  • Warn other boats about the presence of swimmers that you have seen
  • Invite swimmers to visit the club for a chat
  • Take care when (or avoid) passing under bridges that people may jump from
  • Identify areas where people regularly swim and include this information on your circulation plan

This is not just good advice for rowers and coxes, it also applies to coaches, onshore helpers and everyone else involved.

At least one rowing club has made contact with swimmers and invited them to shower at the club after their swim. This provides an opportunity to chat and come to some arrangements that benefit both activities. Please consider doing this at your club.