Over summer as temperatures begin to rise, it can be really tempting to cool off in the river—but knowing how to stay safe is incredibly important. River safety should be at the forefront of your mind if you decide to take the plunge (excuse the pun!) into wild swimming. Before you enter the water, you need to make sure that the water is clean and that the spot you have chosen is safe. It can seem like there are an endless number of factors to consider, but once you've got an established swimming spot, your River Safety Routine will become like second nature.
Is it safe?
- Check the weather: Adverse weather can turn even the safest of swimming spots into a danger zone. Heavy rain and wind can cause rivers to become unpredictable. In addition, take extra care swimming after a storm; high winds can cause hazardous debris to accumulate beneath the surface
- Check the flow: Unless you’re an exceptionally strong swimmer, stay away from rivers with a fast flow. You can check how fast the river is by throwing a leaf into the water and watching it float downstream
- Check the depth: Even rivers which seem shallow can drop off suddenly. Make sure you test the depth of the water before you take the plunge
- Check the temperature: Even on a sunny day, rivers can be exceptionally cold! Make sure you test the temperature before you get in to avoid having your breath taken away; the shock of cold water can be incredibly dangerous
- Swim with a buddy: It’s best to take a friend along when you go swimming, just in case you get into any trouble. However, although we would never advise solo swimming, we know it’s not always possible. If you’re on your own, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Keep a mobile phone close by in case of any emergencies
- Have an exit plan: Make sure there’s an easily accessible spot to get into (and more importantly, out of) the river. Bear in mind that you might be exhausted when it’s time to get out, so make sure your exit point isn’t too steep
- Stay sober: Taking a dip in the local river after a few too many ciders can seem like a great idea—but it’s not! Drinks and drugs can seriously impact your judgement and your ability to swim
- Be boat aware: Many watercourses are used by boats, so it's important to be conscious of this when you're choosing a river to swim in
- Don't dive: Even in well-known swimming spots, rocks and debris can shift beneath the surface. For this reason, it's never a good idea to dive into the water
Is it clean?
Despite our best efforts, rivers aren't always as clean as we'd like them to be. Cleanliness is an important part of river safety - here's what to watch out for!
- Heavy rain: You can see where storm overflows discharge untreated sewage in to rivers on our Sewage Map. A good rule of thumb is to never swim in the days following heavy rain. When heavy rain occurs, sewers can discharge directly into rivers, making them very dangerous to swim in.
- Weil’s Disease/Leptospirosis: the actual risk of contracting leptospirosis is relatively low, but it’s still important to reduce your risk. Make sure than any cuts are covered with waterproof plasters, and never swim in stagnant water
- Blue green algae: Over summer, blooms of this algae can pop up. They are dangerous to humans and can be fatal to dogs—but luckily these blooms are easily identifiable
Don't forget you will also need to check you aren't trespassing on private land. Use this useful guidance by the Outdoor Swimming Society to check your location before swimming.
If you've encountered something worrying on a swim, or simply want more information on staying safe in rivers, head over to the Outdoor Swimming Society website.