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Ten Top Tips for Tidal Open Water Swimming – Tim Wiggin’s

Open Water Swimming

Ten Top Tips for Tidal Open Water Swimming – by Tim Wiggin’s

Open water swimming in tidal waters is a thrilling and unique experience. The open waves are like no other pool and coastal open water swimming can open up the chance to explore creeks and hidden coves.

With its many benefits, it can also be challenging and include potentially dangerous consequences for the unprepared swimmer. It is important to learn about the potential hazards and ensuring that you are doing the best you can to mitigate them is good practice for open water swimming on tidal coasts.

Drawing on his experience swimming, sailing and kayaking on coasts around the world, Tim Wiggins offered his Top Ten Tips for safe and enjoyable open water swims on the coast. The first five are his tips for pre-swim preparation, while the latter five are his advice for when you are in the water.

  1. Buy a Tidal Flow Atlas and Tide Timetable

Tidal flows are the greatest danger with open water swimming in coastal waters. If you judge incorrectly, you could be battling against a tide flow far greater than your swimming expertise – a force that could sweep you out to sea and place you in very real danger.

To understand the tidal flows in your zone, it is necessary to purchase a tidal flow atlas or an App-based equivalent. These maps demonstrate the direction of flow at various stages of the tide. Accompanied by 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. However, you should always double check this by looking at buoys and moored boats at your swimming place and observing how the water flow is affecting them.

Understanding the tidal flows is important to knowing in which direction you should swim. More on this in Tip 6.

  1. Learn When You Can Swim

Tidal waters flood and ebb twice a day. At low water, there may not be sufficient water to swim. You can use your tide tables and ask locals about water depth to understand when you will have enough water to swim.

  1. Be Aware of Tidal Flushes

If you are swimming near a harbour, then it is worth remembering 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 if it makes sense with the tidal flows, then it is worth swimming in the hours before high water to avoid the tidal flush.

  1. Consider A to B Swims and Day Swims

When planning your open water swims in tidal waters, consider the idea of a ‘Point-to-Point’ swim or a ‘Day Swim’. This is a great way of using the tide flows to your advantage; you can allow the tide to 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. You will feel like you have a helping hand on both legs of the swim!

  1. Swim Within Your Limits

In tidal waters, it is even more crucial to only plan to swim within your limits. This does not mean you cannot go for PB’s and/or new distance records, but always be certain to leave a little extra in your tank so you can make it back against the tide if you have to.

  1. Start Swimming Against the Flow

In cycling, there is a mantra of ‘Headwind out. Tailwind home’ – the premise 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 can be applied to tidal waters – it is best to swim out against the current, then turn around and allow it to carry you back to your starting point. Using the tidal flow knowledge obtained from your tidal atlas, combined with your observations, you should easily be able to swim against the current on your outward leg.

  1. Stay in Shallow Water. Avoid Deep Water Channels

Tidal flows are less in shallow water, so it pays to swim closer to shore. It is also worth remembering that deep water channels are used by shipping – making them even more hazardous. Stick to swimming in shallow water to minimise 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.

  1. Wear a High-Visibility Swim Cap

Visibility is even more important during open water swims on the coast, as you will probably 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.

  1. Use a Safety Float

As well as a swimming cap, a high-visibility colour safety pull float should be a must-have accessory for coastal open water swimming; it aids in ensuring you are more visible to other water users, helps make you more obvious to any potential rescuer, and s

upplies a potentially life-saving flotation device if you do get into trouble.

  1. Have an SOS Device

For even greater protection and peace of mind when open water swimming in tidal coastal waters, consider taking an ‘SOS Device’ such as a VHF Radio, EPIRB, or a mobile phone in a waterproof case in your safety float. If the tide really catches you out and you feel yourself being taken offshore, this device could be a life-saver.

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