Having Your First Open Water Swim? What to Know before Going

Open water swimming is an entirely different experience from a dip in the pool. Out in the sea, there are no lanes, the floor is uneven, and a slight change in the weather conditions can affect your entire day. However, it is an experience you need to have, especially if you’re the type who enjoys swimming. Here are things to keep in mind before you go.

Safety First: Never Go Out Alone

Do not attempt an open water swim when you’re alone, most especially if you’re a first-timer! Find a group, or at least a swim buddy, if you want to venture out into the open. Open water swimming means dealing with everything from sea bugs to jellyfish, choppy waves, and more. If you swim with a partner or a group, you have someone to seek assistance from should unforeseen circumstances arise. 

Also, take note of the weather before you head out, and avoid swimming during inclement weather, in the early morning, or during the late afternoon. Lifeguards will likely be off-duty in these instances, and the water will be murky and have low visibility.

Wear Equipment That Helps You Stay Visible

Waters in Australia are generally warm. You wouldn’t neck warmers, booties, and swim gloves, equipment you need when swimming north of the equator. However, swimmers still need to wear brightly coloured swimwear for visibility. You could wear speedos or swimsuits you would use in a pool, but many athletes prefer wearing tri suits for protection when swimming in areas with sea bugs.

You could also wear a coloured swimming cap to help make you easier to spot, especially when you start swimming further from the shore. A safety float or buoy is also helpful. It can serve as a float for when you get cramps or are tired, and it helps make you more visible to your swim companions or lifeguards. Finally, you could get goggles. Investing in a good pair can help make your open water swimming experience much better.

Make Sure You Stay Hydrated

When you swim in the open, you risk getting dehydrated because seawater is salty. Ensure that you get enough hydration before your swim—have an isotonic drink before you go. You could also break your swim into loops and hydrate when you head back to the shore. Pace yourself during your swim sessions—the body fatigues much faster in warm water! Besides keeping yourself hydrated, you could also protect areas prone to abrasion. Applying Vaseline or chafing cream on your neck, armpits, and groin will help lessen or ease chafing.

Remember That Conditions Are Dynamic

No two days are alike in open water swimming. The conditions are constantly changing—weather conditions, vessels, currents, and other factors can affect your swim. No matter how many times you train in an area, race day will still bring some surprises, so getting into the proper mindset is crucial.

You also need to develop the right skills and techniques for swimming out in the open. Sighting—knowing how to direct yourself from Point A to Point B without using swim lanes—is a critical skill in open water swimming. It will also keep you on course when unfamiliar conditions present themselves during your swim.

Seek Out a Swim Coach

Finally, having an experienced coach will help, especially if you’re an amateur training for your first triathlon or open water swim meet. A coach will help you monitor your technique and advise you on how you can improve. Coaches can also develop a training schedule for you, so you don’t miss out on a single training day!


Swimming in the open is a very different experience from swimming in the pool. You get to develop your observation skills, learn how to adapt to dynamic situations, and develop your endurance and stamina. It has a bit of a learning curve, even for experienced pool swimmers, but it is rewarding once you get the hang of it.

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