A man wearing a flotation device lying on his back in a lake

Open water swimming is a completely different experience from swimming in a pool; it's a liberating one that all swimmers should experience. With no ropes or walls to confine your movements, you'll feel free as you adventure into the natural depths of your unique surroundings.

Often appealing to adrenaline junkies and those looking to reconnect with nature, open water swimming doesn't just warrant a leisurely paddle on a hot sunny day. Competitive races are held by Swim England, who have run the National Open Water Championship for over 100 years!

If you fancy dipping your toe in the water and giving open water swimming a go, you'll want to invest in a good quality swimming wetsuit. These are essential as they will not only insulate your body, they will also provide buoyancy and help your body to glide through the water.

Two boys swimming by a waterfall

What is Open Water Swimming?

Open water swimming is simply swimming in open water. It is often referred to as wild swimming or outdoor swimming and entails bodies of water that have no artificial sides or bases.

Wild swimming can include:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Lochs
  • Seas
  • Reservoirs

Open water swimming is sought after as it encompasses a feeling of freedom and avoids chemicals such as chlorine.

Open water swimming can be enjoyed in groups or as an individual. We strongly recommend that open swimming is always done in company for safety purposes, with either someone else joining you in the water or spotting you from the shore.

Two people running into the sea wearing open water wetsuits

Open Water Swimming Safety Tips

Like all activities, open water swimming harbours its own risks. To avoid any potential incidents, we have put together some of our top tips and risks to consider:

  • Coldwater shock can be fatal – take a minute to grow accustomed to the temperature of the water before swimming to acclimatise to the water. If you start to experience cold water shock, relax on your back, catch your breath and hold onto something to keep you afloat. Try to remain calm and call for help or swim to safety if you are able to.
  • There will be a lack of safety equipment available and an increase in difficulty rescuing you; ensure that you have someone to spot you and you have the required equipment to help you back to safety.
  • Underwater objects and hazards may not be visible – you may want to invest in water shoes to protect your feet.
  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away – you may want to learn how to read the water and look for essential clues, signs and patterns. Check the water flow by throwing in a stick and observing if it floats faster than your ability to swim.
  • The water quality may be under par - get to know your algae as some can be toxic.
  • Gauge the depth before jumping in – spots that you visit regularly can be quickly be filled by rocks, sand and branches that have been swept downstream.

All of the above hazards can be managed with proper planning. Open water swimming is an incredibly enjoyable and beneficial sport to undertake, but your safety is paramount. It is essential that all of these hazards are taken into account and controlled where possible.

Grantchester Meadows
Credit: Bob Jones CC BY-SA 2.0

The Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire

This spot was a bathing spot that offered inspiration to writers such as Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke.

For a delightful dip in the water, you might fancy swimming along 2km of idyllic meadows that end at the Orchard Tea Garden. Its deep banks allow for diving, but be warned, its banks can get muddy!

River Bale at Great Woolcombe
Credit: Bob Jones CC BY-SA 2.0

The Barle, Simonsbath, Exmoor National Park

Swimming upriver, you'll glide through the Bluebell Woods and find yourself in a plethora of clear, secluded pools. If you continue to swim on, you'll be able to make your way to the Tarr Steps, a prehistoric stone bridge.

In the area, you'll be surrounded by flora and fauna, as well as local pubs where you'll be able to enjoy a well-deserved pint.

West Beach on the Isles of Harris 

Credit: Oliver Dixon CC BY-SA 2.0

West Beach, Isles of Harris

Find a piece of paradise as you swim through the clear turquoise waters of Berneray.

West Beach is among the most beautiful swimming beaches in the UK; it will take your breath away. This island off the coast of Scotland is a little out of reach, but if you find yourself in need of a local holiday, you might want to consider the Isles of Harris.

The lake Coniston Water
Credit: John Fielding CC BY-SA 2.0

Coniston Water, Cumbria

A popular spot for long-distance swimming, the Coniston Water is one of the largest lakes in the Lake District, measuring around five miles!

If you fancy giving the lake a go, you might also want to sign up for Chillswim, a wetsuit-optional event where swimmers complete the length of the entire lake!

Pennington Flash
Credit: Ronald Saunders CC BY-SA 2.0

Pennington Flash, Leigh

Known for being the Ironman UK's water segment, Pennington Flash is a man-made lake that offers regular open water swimming sessions. You'll have access to changing rooms, hot showers, wetsuit hire, swim coaches and a range of memberships for the surrounding area!

When visiting Pennington Flash, you'll want to take into account that there are only certain times you can jump on in and swim; this is due to boat activity that regularly takes place on the lake.

Lock Lomond
Credit: Clem_nat CC BY-SA 4.0

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Loch Lomond is a freshwater loch, part of the Lock Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The Trossachs National Park has 22 locks in total, each are perfect for an energising swim!

Based in the South of Scotland, the park is one of the more popular Scottish destinations because of its incredible scenery and variety of activities available. The loch is popular for swimming, canoeing, boating and fishing!

Have we missed any of your favourite open water swimming spots? Be sure to let us know on our social media channels; we'd love to hear from you!

For more information about open water swimming equipment, ask a member of our staff or browse through our blog, where we share in-depth information on appropriate wetsuits, including sizes and thicknesses!


Check out our open water and triathlon wetsuits