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To let my child swim in the great outdoors?

(67 Posts)
MrsMeg Sat 03-Aug-13 20:26:20

So many tragic deaths this year in rivers and quarry's. it's so so bloody sad.

The advice from the authorities seems to be consistent with people being told to stay away. But I think this is wrong - human beings always have and always will be attracted to outdoor swimming - it's one of the most natural things in the world surely?

Instead of simply telling people not to do it, shouldn't we be educating people how to do it safely?

Would be interested to hear people's thoughts, particularly non-Brits.

Is outdoor swimming on the continent the norm? What about in Australia?

My son (14) has had an amazing summer swimming with his friends in the Thames (at Lechlade, not in London!)

It's not without risk and of COURSE I worry but am I being unreasonable letting him continue?

Any outdoor swimmers care to comment?

ThreeMusketeers Sun 04-Aug-13 15:53:09

What other kind of swimming would one do but outdoorsy kind?
Can't fathom public pools - cesspits of human debris and waste. Boak.
Learnt to swim in a river and lake, swam in the sea every Summer as a child - brilliant.

The issue is recklessness, daft machismo and ignorance.

If basic rules were adhered to, the fatalities would drop dramatically.

Don't jump from bridges/etc
Don't swim between red flags.
Don't swim in unfamiliar quarries/stretches of rivers etc. where you don't know the hazards. Or as the locals.
Know what to do if caught in a current/ undertow.
Know how to deal with cramps.

KirjavaTheCat Sun 04-Aug-13 15:45:35

We swim in the sea. Never swum in a river, was always told not to as children and don't now as adults.

Lakes are fine but we don't go to our local lake to swim, just to kayak around and maybe row a boat, if we fall out of the kayak it's more of an accidental swimming trip than a planned one.

hackmum Sun 04-Aug-13 15:44:29

A few of the recent deaths (as someone else has mentioned) have been related to people getting tangled up in underwater reeds or pulled away by unseen currents. The trouble with those things is that they're deceptive - you think, Oh, I'm a strong swimmer, this water looks nice and calm, and you have no idea what you're letting yourself in for.

There's also the risk of course of nasty diseases such as Weill's. So I'd be wary.

badguider Sun 04-Aug-13 15:38:40

Lots of people are arguing that it's 'too risky' because people underestimate hazzards, cold, tides, currents etc... but to me all those are factors related to the lack of outdoor swimming we have in this country, of course people don't have the knowledge to assess those risks if all their swimming is done in a pool.

What we need is not for everybody to avoid outdoor swimming but for people who have experience to share that with others - young and old - and for sensible information to be available and possibly even proper training/qualifications and clubs. Like there is with any other outdoor activity where you need to build experience slowly to learn how to be safe yourself - sailing, mountain climbing etc.

NoComet Sun 04-Aug-13 00:28:41

Yes, the inly nasty acident in our kocal river was a teen who was paralysed jumping in after he'd been drinking.

There was one and only one rock free place, he'd no doubt done it a hundred times, most of the teens had, but having been drinking he miss judged itsad

EBearhug Sun 04-Aug-13 00:23:47

in British waters, hypothermia is more likely to kill you than drowning.

I mean that people drown because they get hypothermia, and are no longer able to get themselves safe, and partly because they won't be aware any more that they are in danger - though hypothermia can kill on its own, and not just in water.

nooka Sun 04-Aug-13 00:20:52

I learned to swim in a river, and my parents generally liked to stop for a swim if we came across open water in the summer. They taught us about currents and to check the depth, not jump unless we'd made sure it was deep enough etc. Most of the places we swam at had plenty of other people swimming too, and none of them had lifeguards. Not heard of the phrase 'wild swimming' either.

We live in Canada now and have lots of lakes around us, so in the summer we swim in them a fair bit. Our local river has a couple of nice beaches and they do have lifeguards in the summer. There have been more than average numbers of drowning deaths this year, but a fair number have been in swimming pools or people in boats etc without lifejackets. There have been no blanket 'don't swim in lakes, rivers or the sea' warnings.

EBearhug Sun 04-Aug-13 00:20:47

I grew up on the south coast, and there was also a river on the farm, not to mention troughs for cattle and so on. We were taught about water safety from a young age, and that even the strongest swimmer can get into trouble. I don't remember my first swimming lessons, but my mother thought learning to swim was a high priority. I am quite a strong swimmer, and was involved in lifesaving from age 14. I paid my way through uni on the wages from teaching swimming and lifeguarding.

I love swimming outside, it's a million times better than swimming indoors (at least in summer!) I was blessed in growing up in Dorset, where we have lots of beaches which are good for swimming, and I have really been missing being able to go down for a swim after school/work, now I don't live there.

If you've got the option of using beaches with lifeguards, that's best, but it's not an option everywhere. Learn to know what flags mean, but if there aren't any flags, that doesn't mean either that it's safe or unsafe. Know that beaches all have their own characteristics, dependent on tides and geology. Some slope out gently, others can shelve suddenly, and you can go from it being up to your knees in one step to being out of your depth.

Be very wary if you can't see the bottom through the water. You can't estimate the depth, and can't see if there's anything sharp or anything. Rivers can be safe, but it very much depends on the depth and water flow. Conditions can change very quickly. Aim for shallower, slower-flowing, clear waters, than deep, fast-flowing water, particularly if it's fast enough to churn white. If it's coming off mountains or come through caves, it could be very cold. Be very wary if it's a river with waterfalls or lots of rocks.

Lakes can also be okay - avoid them if they've got much algae visible, though. I would avoid disused quarries. They tend to be very deep, which will make the water much colder. Cold water makes you gasp, which increases the risk of you inhaling water. Your extremities will go numb as your blood concentrates on protection your vital organs, and you won't be able to judge what's under your feet or control your limbs so well. Hypothermia can affect your mental state and judgement, and you may not realise you're getting into trouble. (And in British waters, hypothermia is more likely to kill you than drowning.) Sudden immersion into cold water could trigger a heart attack, particularly if you're not fit.

I also have a vague memory from when I was doing lifesaving exams that something like 25% of all drownings in British waters is attributable to alcohol.

I don't want to put anyone off swimming - it's a brilliant sport, and swimming outside is fantastic, and I've done it in loads of places round the world (including some places in ignorance of some of the risks, like crocodiles, as was pointed out to me after I got out of the water at one place in Malawi... Obviously I survived.) There can also be risks with waterborne diseases like Weil's disease (leptopspirosis), not to mention tons of other diseases and parasites if you're in the tropics, but the risks in UK waters are low (not non-existent - there are cases of leptospirosis every year, and you should be aware of the symptoms, even if the risk is low.)

Are others swimming where you're thinking of swimming? Find out local knowledge if you can. The more swimmers there are, the warmer the water's likely to be, and probably it's safer. Some places will be known as safer swimming spots - check out something like There are other websites, but this is probably the best for the UK.

(Sorry for wittering on - it's a talent of mine...)

lottiegarbanzo Sun 04-Aug-13 00:01:03

In other countries far more people live or spend time near water bodies that are desirable swimming places. Most people in the UK don't, despite the coastline. Outdoor swimming is just not a commonplace activity here, and never will be for most people, so it's not a surprise that learning how to assess its risks is not as normal or widespread an activity as learning to ride a bike.

edwinbear Sat 03-Aug-13 23:58:37

I think the problem is that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I completely agree, that swimming in seas (mainly for me as a diver) can be an amazing thing, and I'm sure wild swimmers would say the same about lakes/rivers etc, but the police have limited resources and want to stop people jumping into random quarries when they have had a few beers. Of course, it would be great to educate people about safely assessing and enjoying open water, I would also like to see children taught basic first aid at school, but i think resources are stretched at the moment and in terms of keeping people safe this summer, the best advice is to stay out.

MrsMeg Sat 03-Aug-13 23:57:05

I saw that Lottie, I remember the advice about suddenly immersing in cold water and how to react, I made sure to tell my children too because I think the initial response must always be to try and quickly swim out of the water but of course lives have been lost this way.

The same with Rip Tides, they are rarely strong enough to drag you under but so many people drown because they don't understand the mechanism of them or even how to spot them in the first place.

Unless I was the only person on the planet not to know this?

MrsMeg Sat 03-Aug-13 23:52:19

LondonNinja, bilateral breathing (I think) is where you swim freestyle or front crawl and learn to breathe on one side then swim for 3 strokes, then breathing the other side.

Not a technique I have ever mastered smile

In Australia I believe kids are taught this from a reasonably young age. Not that it would keep them safe of course but its simply one technique they are taught amongst others.

I guess my point is that in other countries, learning to swim and learning to assess and minimise risk is given more emphasis then here in the UK

lottiegarbanzo Sat 03-Aug-13 23:47:45

Btw, Dr Alice Roberts presented a programme on wild swimming a year or two ago, it may still be available. It included some of the places from Roger Deakin's book waterlog and was gently positive. It did cover the reflex reaction to immersion in cold water well too. Take time to adjust before you start swimming was the message, or you can find yourself struggling to breathe and keep afloat at the same time.

MrsMeg Sat 03-Aug-13 23:47:02

Bunbaker - I'm not disagreeing with you, my point is that when people do tragically lose their lives on the road, they are rarely labelled as 'idiotic' for being in a car in the first place.

Rather than issue a point blank 'don't swim in open water' rule (which the police have been issuing throughout the summer), wouldn't it be better to educate people about keeping safe in the water?

How many of us here know how to spot a rip-tide, or what to do if caught in one for example?

LondonNinja Sat 03-Aug-13 23:43:57

Possibly a silly question, but what is bilateral swimming? Was never taught to swim - I learned by sheer luck - using the strokes I knew when a wave knocked me for six in the Caribbean Sea. Terrifying - I was dragged along the shingle and bled - but I was very fortunate. I want DC to learn to swim really well - DH takes them (I took them to baby 'swimming') but we want to try to give LO the chance to learn the best technique.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 03-Aug-13 23:39:32

I've spent a lot of time in Canada and always swum in lakes there, but, by July, those lakes are warm. This spring was cold and the water late to warm up but by July, the lake we stayed near was about 26c, near the surface of course but that's where you swim. By the end of a sunny fortnight it felt like getting into a swimming pool.

I swam in the North Sea as a child and happily stayed in cold water until I was going blue. I didn't have the same fear or dislike of cold that I do now. Supervision was essential!

I'd be very wary of reservoirs, canals and many rivers in the UK, as they're full of all sorts of rubbish - I always imagine sharp, rusty metal objects just below the surface - as well as rivers being full of sewage. I'd happily swim in more remote lakes though, when I feel I can stand the cold.

edwinbear Sat 03-Aug-13 23:35:22

I scuba dive and have, on occasion, found myself in stronger currents/colder water/worse visibility, (not relevant to swimming I know), than I had expected when I planned and started my dive. I have known currents to change direction during a dive. Sometimes it has been quite scary even when properly trained, equipped and with other suitably trained and equipped buddies, whilst being followed by a dive boat. Personally, I would never swim in open water I didn't know (without someone who knew it well) and neither would I allow my children to.

Bunbaker Sat 03-Aug-13 23:26:35

"Has it ever occurred to you that people are more likely to be killed in their cars on the way to your swimming lessons then they are partaking in outdoor swimming activities?"

Why so antagonistic? Statistically more people are killed on the roads because more people drive than go wild swimming. It would be interesting to see what the pro rata deaths are.

"And wild swimming is not 'very dangerous' what an utterly stupid thing to say!"


I have swum in lakes and the sea, but I would never swim in a river unless I knew it was safe. The problem we have round here is that there are loads of reservoirs and they are extremely dangerous places to swim in, yet every year when we have a heatwave people die from trying to swim in one.

LadyBigtoes Sat 03-Aug-13 23:22:26

I'm a strong swimmer but I wouldn't swim across a river I was in recently - I stayed close to the edge. Because I'd never been there before, couldn't see how deep it was and if it got deep and cold in the middle or had undercurrents. To me, that felt like a natural instinct to avoid the unknown, as well as being sensible. But then drinking and not wanting to look chicken probably make a lot of people do things they wouldn't do otherwise.

LadyBigtoes Sat 03-Aug-13 23:18:22

I love it - though I only swim outdoors within my depth, and ideally when I can see the bottom - in shallow rivers and the sea. I'm very cautious with my DC as they can't swim atm and DS at 8 is showing no signs of being able to, though we are trying.

I think people are very under-informed about the signs of drowning and also what water can do when it's cold, flowing fast, deep or opaque. I only learnt about what drowning can look like - the person going quiet and helpless, not thrashing about - on here very recently.

And people generally don't tend to think of water as powerful. Water is very heavy and if it's moving fast it can knock you down and pull you away easily, even if it's shallow. Currents can pull you under the surface in a way that is invisible to people nearby once you've under. Jumping or diving into water you don't know well is obviously daft but loads of people do it.

Aside from the issue of people swimming in the summer, I'm always horrified when there are big floods and there's always footage of people larking about in floodwater or letting small children paddle right at the edge of a raging torrent, and they're always presented as harmless fun. Floods are extra dangerous as they are unpredictable.

More generally, why don't we get public information ads and warnings like we used to? They did work - we all still remember them. Even when it's on the news, they rarely get someone knowledgeable in to just explain the dangers and tell you explicitly what is and isn't safe. Instead you just get all this opinion and handwringing.

weblette Sat 03-Aug-13 23:18:05

how not who

weblette Sat 03-Aug-13 23:17:23

You can be as strong a swimmer as you like but so many of the open water places in the UK are man made and have hazards under the surface which can't be seen or they're very deep bodies of water with low temperatures.

Educating people about who to use them safely is pointless as they're just not safe to swim in.

Yes a lovely swim across a natural lake with sloping sides or a river with varying depths can be amazing, you're just missing the point about where these accidents are happening.

sydlexic Sat 03-Aug-13 23:11:33

A teenager died here, if you look across the water you calculate that it is well within your capabilities to swim that far, but the deep water is very cold it's numbs you and restricts breathing.

MamaMary Sat 03-Aug-13 23:04:10

I have swum in the sea my whole life and continue to do so every summer, from June to September regardless of whether it's a warm summer or not.

I learned to swim (in a swimming pool) aged 4 and swimming has been one of my greatest pleasures in life, particularly sea-swimming.

I actually agree that it is very dangerous, but if you are a strong, confident swimmer and act sensibly then you can greatly reduce the risks. For instance, around the coast near where I live, I know which beaches are safer to swim from and which ones to avoid completely due to currents, whirl pools, and undulating ground beneath. I also swim off rocks, but only when the sea is calm enough.

One of the worst things parents can do is give their children inflatables in the sea. Many drownings are due to children or even adults being carried out to sea on inflatables and not able to get back to shore. Don't even use arm bands. I was always taught to test my depth by putting my feet down and to not swim out of my depth.

I have swum in lakes in France and Germany but lakes are so-so: not as magical as the sea IMO.

Taz1212 Sat 03-Aug-13 23:03:38

I grew up in the US and took all my swimming lessons in a lake- there were no local swimming pools so this was how all the kids learned how to swim. Nothing quite like waking up at 7:00 AM shivering on the beach doing warm ups then having little fish nibble at your ankles when you waded in!

We also swam in the ocean in Maine every summer. Good sized waves, freezing cold water and a fairly strong current. Fantastic!

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