Safety during an open water swim

Doing a solo openwater swim is risky, doing it in a group is safer, but even then the risks are still there.

If you are planning to do an open water swim, make sure you inform someone where you are going to do your swim, if possible have someone look over you during your swim, either from the shore,  or from a water craft like a boat or a standup paddleboard. But for.most of that would be a luxury. In any case, this post will cover some of the aspecrs of safety based on my experience.


If you are to swim in area where motorboats past by, I highly recommend with a swimming buoy, this is so that they can easily spot you from afar and then avoid you. 


Most people have a fear of openwater swimming because of jaws or sharks, just keep in mind that sharks attacks are actually quite rare. A friend who SCUBA dives shares that she has done more than 80 dives in Brunei and has never seen a shark. I have snorkeled in sabah once and there was a certain small fish that kept on pecking on me, but i guess I was invading its territory and it was being protective. Otherwise most fishes just pass by or swim away. One occassion I puked in the water, there were small fishes swimming along side me for a while. The hazard that I keep on facing  during an openwater swimming is jellyfish, and not just the big ones (like the one that stung my wife), the small ones can pack quite a sting. The pain is not much different to an ant bite or a bee sting (which i have also experienced). During a swim we may swim through them, and they are just reacting to us bumping into them, in my case its usually around the neck and chest area, a few times the armpit (so it was painful when i pulled and recover during a swim stroke).


Jelly fish protection is either wear a rash guard, or I have seen people use an anti jellyfish gel in Labuan, I haven’t seen it sold in Brunei though. Now treatment for stings is quite confusing if you google around. 

Generally do not touch the tentacles if they are still attached, use an object to help pull it off. I have seen people use a credit card to scrap of any stingers that might be still attached, but others share that the pressure from the cards might inject more venom from the stingers. 

A common suggestion is to urinate or pee on the affected area. I haven’t personally try this, but what I have tried is vinegar spray and warm water. The idea is the acid may deactivate the stingers or neutralize the venom,  others suggest that the warm water may do the same thing. The general idea is if the temperature or pH of the solution matches the venom it will be neutralized, but if it doesn’t it will be activated, on that note there are those that suggest rinsing in the salty ocean water would suffice. I admit a warm shower does sting a bit initially, but it does feel soothed afterwards. 


Group swimming is not much different from a group hike. It is best to swim in a group.  After all in the case of a predator,  what matters is not that you can swim faster than the predator, but that you can swim.faster than the other swimmers. 😜 

Jokes aside, group swimming is the best way for a beginner to try an open water swim. The number of people may give comfort, confidence and moral support to the person, especially in knowing that someone may accompany them or may even help them during times of need. So the first important part if a group swim is…


Ideally partner up with someone your speed, or at least doesn’t mind slowing down to keep you company. If there is an odd one out, then there can be a swim buddy of threes. But keep in mind despite being with conpany, even those who can swim, there are no guarantees that they can help you in an emergency situation. Which is why I recommend the swimmer to have at least a few basics before they begin to swim open water.


If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you have a swimming buoy, Note that even though it is not meant to be a flotation device or a lifesaving device (it says so on the package or the buoy) it can give the beginner a bit of confidence boost knowing that they might be assisted by a floating device if they get tired. Note that most people won’t need a floating device if they know how to relax in the water, especially since most people will float easily in sea water. 

Another important use of a swimming buoy is as a dry bag. To place your  belongings like your key or your wallet in it while you swim.  You may be able to safely keep your mobile phone dry in it, but there is no guarantee. 

An important note if swimmimg against the waves, if the waves are crushing, it is recommneded that you hold the buoy in your arms instead of leaving it staying behind.  As the forces in a wave may brEak the tether to the buoy.


Before we begin it is best to identify the prequisites for you to be able to swim openwater. 

  1. You know how to swim, at least 50 metres
  2. You know how to swim relaxed. You can swim 500 metres without feeling tired. This usually requires to be comfortable with breathing rythm.
  3. You can float, tread easily and comfortably. The sea water does make this a lot more easier than in the swimming pool.
  4. Sighting. In the swimming pool you have the lines and tiles to guide you, in the open water there is no such thing. Swimming breast stroke is easy to sight. Freestyle or front crawl is more tricky. What I would recommend is to lift head up to sight, right before turning the head to the side to breathe in.
  5. Swimming straight


Before the swim, communicate to the group of the route. 

  • The simplest route is straight out and back, its easier if there is a target to aim for. Most people wont be able to swim straight even with a swim marker.  
  • Another route is one that triathlons usually do, which is a triangle loop, a few hundred metres outwards to the left, swim to the right parallel to the shore, and then back to starting point.  its easier if you have a swim marker buoy. But its doable even if without.
  • Probably the safest and easiest route to swim far is to swim outwards for a fww hundred metres, at least past the wave breakers, and then swim parallel to the shore, and then back

It is helpful if you have a GPS swim watch to keep track of the distance during a swim, it may also be use as a guide during the swim.


    This is the part that is often difficult to maintain, especially if there are people different swimming abilities. Keep swimming in a pack, you don’t want to leave anyone behind. A slow beginner swimmer in the back may feel pressured to keep up and they may tire and quit sooner. In a bigger group, people with different abilities might split into 2 or 3 groups. But as long as you stay with your swimming buddy you shud be fine, and the groups should stay together. In the case of splits the choices are to maintain the group by stopping frequently at 50 or a 100 metres and wait for the rest, or to split the group between fast and slow, so the fast groups don’t need to stop so frequently and maintain their pace.

    There is probably a few more things that i could cover, but these are the important things I can remember right now. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions to ask any other issues or to clarify certain aspects.


    Posted on 2017/08/19, in open water swimming, Swimming and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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