Top Ten Tips for Tidal Open Water Swimming
Open water swimming in tidal waters is an exhilarating and unique experience. The open waves are like no other pool and coastal open water swimming can open up amazing opportunities to explore creeks and hidden coves.
Tidal open water swimming can bring its challenges though and can be potentially dangerous for the unprepared swimmer. Therefore, it’s important to learn about the potential risks involved and the best ways to mitigate these risks before you start.
ZONE3 ambassador, Tim Wiggens, has drawn upon his swimming, sailing and kayaking experiences to put together Ten Top Tips for safe and enjoyable open water swims on the coast. The first five are tips for pre-swim preparation, while the latter five are advice for when you are in the water.
1. Buy a Tidal Flow Atlas and Tide Timetable
The greatest danger with open water swimming in coastal waters are the everchanging tidal flows. Misjudging these could see you battling against a tide flow far stronger than your swimming prowess – a force that has the potential to sweep you out to sea and place you in a position of real danger.
To better understand the tidal flows in your area, you should purchase a tidal flow atlas or an App-based equivalent. These maps show you the direction of flow at different stages of the tide. Paired with a tide timetable you can then know the high-water time and check your atlas to know which way the tide will flow at any given hour. Of course, you should always double check this by looking at buoys and moored boats at your swimming location and observing how the water flow is affecting them.
Understanding the tidal flows is key to knowing which direction to swim in. More on this in Tip 6.
2. Learn When You Can Swim
Tidal waters flood and ebb twice a day. At low water, there may not be enough water to swim. You can use your tide tables and ask locals about water depth to work out when you will have enough water to swim.
3. Be Aware of Tidal Flushes
If you are swimming close to a harbour, then it is worth considering that the harbour ‘empties’ when the tide is dropping from high tide to low tide. The water emptying from a harbour can bring with it some unpleasant debris and sediment. If you can and it makes sense with the tidal flows, then it is worth swimming in the hours before high water to avoid the tidal flush.
4. Consider A to B Swims and Day Swims
It’s important to consider the idea of a ‘Point-to-Point’ swim or a ‘Day Swim when planning your open water swims in tidal waters. This allows you to use the tide flows in your favour. For instance, you can let the tide carry you down from your starting point to a rendezvous with some friends on a beach, then wait for the tide to turn before heading back. The tide will offer a helping hand on both legs of the swim!
5. Swim Within Your Limits
In tidal waters, it is even more important to only plan to swim within your limits. This does not mean you cannot go for PB's and new distance records, but always ensure you leave a little extra in your tank so you can make it back against the tide if you have to.
6. Start Swimming Against the Flow
In cycling, there is a mantra of 'Headwind out. Tailwind home' – the reasoning behind this is that you are assisted by the elements when you are more tired in the second half of your route. The same principle applies to tidal waters – it is best to swim out against the current, then turn around and let it carry you back to your starting point. Using the tidal flow knowledge obtained from your tidal atlas, as well as your observations, you should easily be able to swim against the current on your outward leg.
7. Stay in Shallow Water. Avoid Deep Water Channels
Tidal flows are less aggressive in shallow water, so it pays to swim closer to shore. It is also worth noting that deep water channels are used by shipping – making them even more hazardous. Stick to swimming in shallow water to reduce the danger from tide and other water users; a good bet is to try and swim parallel to the shore, just out of your depth.
8. Wear a High-Visibility Swim Cap
Visibility is even more important during open water swims on the coast, as you are likely to be sharing the water with pleasure craft and commercial shipping. A high visibility orange, yellow or neon green swimming cap, such as those from Zone3, are an inexpensive way to help improve your visibility.
9. Use a Safety Float
A high-visibility colour safety pull float should be a mandatory accessory for coastal open water swimming; it helps make you more visible to other water users, helps make you more obvious to any potential rescuer, and supplies a potentially life-saving flotation device if you do get into trouble.
10. Have an SOS Device
Another important and potentially life-saving part of your equipment list should be an ‘SOS Device’ such as a VHF Radio, EPIRB, or a mobile phone. You can store these in a waterproof case in your safety float. If the tide really catches you out and you feel yourself being swept away with thee current, this device may be a lifesaver.
You can find all these products on our ZONE3US website to help maintain your safety when tackling tidal flows in coastal areas. Moreover, our wetsuits are designed to improve your buoyancy and range of movement, helping you to feel more confident in the water.
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