Susannah Taylor: How to swim safely in the wild 

Susannah Taylor: How to swim safely in the wild

Susannah Taylor: How to swim safely in the wild

You don’t have to be a wellbeing expert to know that the UK has gone crazy for wild swimming. However, it’s all very well diving into freezing waters in the name of good health, but is it safe – and how long is too long in cold water? Kate Rew, founder of The Outdoor Swimming Society, is an authority on the subject and her new book The Outdoor Swimmers’ Handbook* is essential reading for all wild-water lovers. From understanding waves to weather, kit and managing cold, here are her tips for enjoying swimming outdoors safely.

Plan your dip

‘Assessing the risks of your swim is non-negotiable,’ says Rew. ‘With the right to swim freely comes the responsibility to do it safely.’ She suggests you look at distance and route, water conditions (is there a current, for example), water quality, whether you are fit enough for the type of water, hazards (boats, algae, jellyfish) and the weather forecast.

Be algae aware

When in bloom, blue-green algae – which releases biotoxins – is something to be wary of. ‘It looks like spilt paint,’ says Rew. It also smells. To check the water is clear of it, she suggests filling a Kilner jar three quarters full with water collected from under the surface, putting the lid on and leaving in the fridge overnight. If the algae settle on top they are the blue-green variety, if it’s on the bottom they’re harmless algae.

Enter where you can exit

‘It is more difficult to get out of deep water than it is to get in when gravity is on your side,’ says Rew. If you find yourself in icy waters without a route out, it could be fatal. Remember that exiting can also be made more difficult by becoming cold.

Ease yourself in

 If you have ever jumped into icy waters you will know about ‘cold shock’ which leaves you gasping for breath and can be extremely frightening. Rew suggests entering the water slowly in a controlled way and dabbing water on your skin first to take away the shock.

Control your breath

‘If you feel like the water has punched the air out of your lungs exhale with a strong “fwaw”,’ says Rew. ‘This feels counterintuitive, but if you puff the air out it will come back in.’

Wise up on waves

‘If you get caught in a rip current when sea swimming, it can be terrifying,’ says Rew. ‘Rather than swim against it, swim out, or let it take you out and round it.’ She also suggests floating on your back and taking a series of slow, calming breaths whenever you feel the panic rising. ‘You can float or tread seawater for a long time as it is very buoyant.’

Know your limits

The theory goes that degrees relate to minutes, so if the water is five degrees you can stay in for five minutes. Rew disagrees: ‘How long you can stay in depends on your body and what you enjoy.’ Start out with short dips and extend time in the water gradually.

Get warm fast

After exiting the water you can experience ‘after drop’, where you gradually become colder. That’s because the cooling process doesn’t stop straight away. Rew suggests you remove wet clothes quickly (use a changing robe), stay out of the wind, have a warm drink and shiver – it’s your body’s mechanism for warming up.

Stay in shape

While some people swim long distances, others dunk themselves in. But a quick dip can’t replace your fitness regime. The fitter you are, the better your body will manage cold water.

Beat stress? No, befriend it

 We are led to believe that anxiety is dangerous and damaging and should be eradicated like a disease. But what if we changed the way we see stress and instead embraced the way that it can lead us towards change? Dr Tracy Dennis-Tiwary’s new book Future Tense: Why Anxiety is Good for You (Piatkus, £14.99) radically reinterprets how we can use our worries to our advantage.

Hit this bottle for a boost 

They improve mood, restore energy, regulate your stress response and reduce fatigue, in short, adaptogens – called rasayanas in Ayurvedic medicine – are life enhancing.For a handy hit of them, try Artah’s Stress Tonic (£30,, which boasts 100 per cent adaptogens such as holy basil and rhodiola.