Open water swimming and staying safe

Open Water Safety Talk on Niseabost Beach at 11 AM, Wednesday 25th August
Murdo Macaulay – Coastal Operations Area Commander
Western Isles, Skye & Lochaber

With the recent spell of warm weather here in Harris, there has been an increase in the number of people enjoying the freedom of open water swimming and other water activities. There is nothing quite like the sense of freedom gained from exploring our beautiful landscape, but it is important to remember that nature can be unpredictable and we must respect it and properly prepare ourselves to reduce the risk of coming into harm.

We are often asked which is the safest or best beach to swim at, a question we find difficult to answer as the answer is dependent on so many different factors, not least, weather conditions and your swimming ability.

With this in mind, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share some tips to help keep you safe if you choose to enter the water.

But first, something to note. Our remote and rural location in West Harris poses a danger, with emergency response times impacted due to location and terrain. No matter what activity you choose to take part in, be it swimming, hiking or cycling, please let someone know where you are going to be and your expected return time.

On to the tips…

  • Before swimming, equip yourself with knowledge such as how to identify rip tides, swells and currents.
  • Think before you swim. Check your entry and exit points and take into account currents and tides.
  • Do not mix swimming and alcohol.
  • Swim with other people – ideally that know the area and have swum in open water before.
  • Don’t jump in. Enter the water slowly to prevent ‘cold water shock’.
  • Let people know where you are and what you’re doing.
  • Make sure you’re visible in the water. Wear a brightly coloured cap and consider using a tow-float.
  • Stay within your capabilities.
  • If someone gets in trouble, don’t put yourself at risk but call for help – dial 999 or 112.
  • If you find yourself in difficulty FLOAT TO LIVE.

There are many online resources which explain in detail precautions to take to help you stay safe in the water. A couple we’d recommend are; Immerse Hebrides run guided wild swimming and coaching classes in Lewis and Harris.

Coastal Safety – Beach, sea or coast, think 999 Coastguard (

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning – Yachts International

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