Open Water Swimming 101: A Brief Guide for Beginners

Swimming in natural bodies of water like the ocean, river, or lake offers a unique experience. Unlike swimming pools, open waters have no floor, walls, or lane lines. The conditions for swimming also depend on nature-related variables, like current, weather, and wind. This makes it more challenging than swimming in a controlled environment while providing a better sense of adventure and fulfilment.

Open water swimming may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. To make your outdoor swimming experience safe and enjoyable, use this article as your guide.

Is Open Water Swimming Safe?

Open water swimming has risks involved, just like any sports or athletic activity. For this reason, it can be dangerous, even for experienced swimmers. Before trying it out, it’s best to master swimming in a controlled environment first. You should also learn how to swim comfortably overlong distances.

How Do You Stay Safe in the Open Water?

Whether you are a beginner or experienced swimmer, you should swim with a buddy you can easily call for help if the need arises. This partner must swim at a similar speed as you or at least check you from time to time. If it’s not possible to swim with a friend or family member, make sure safety support is available on site. 

If you want to explore open water swimming, here are some factors you and your swim partner should consider:

  • Experience and comfort in the open water
  • Distance
  • Temperature
  • Tide 
  • Waves
  • Wildlife

It’s also crucial to practice sighting. By bringing your head up and finding some landmarks every few strokes, you familiarise yourself with your surroundings and help you stick to your planned swimming route.

How Long Does It Take to Swim a Mile in the Open Water?

The conditions of the body of water and level of swimming experience affect efficiency, speed, and the time it takes to swim a mile. Experienced swimmers in the open water can swim a mile in 25-30 minutes, while beginner yet capable swimmers take 30-45 minutes. 

Are Wetsuits Required for Open Water Swimming?

Wetsuits are not needed for open water swimming. However, wearing one during the winter months is advisable. Doing so offers protection from debris, keeps the body temperature significantly warmer, and prevents diving responses that result in an abnormally rapid or slow heart rate and even heart rhythm problems. 

What Do You Wear for Open Water Swimming?

Like any outdoor activity, you need to prepare your swimming gear before swimming. To bring the right equipment, check the water and water temperature beforehand. If you’re a beginner, make sure you have your wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, and safety buoy.

Ideally, your gear must be in a bright colour to ensure high visibility. If you will be swimming long distances or in cold water, bring some swim gloves, socks, and a hood. Don’t forget to take your earplugs and energy levels with you.


Swimming into a large body of water for the first time can be overwhelming as it offers a completely different experience than swimming in a pool. Thankfully, you now know the basics of open water swimming. To better prepare for your first open water swimming session, buy tow floats, dry bags, and other swimming items you need to keep yourself visible and safe while swimming.

Shop at Swim Secure for high-quality swimming essentials. Besides helping you stay visible, our products provide waterproof storage for your belongings during your swim. Browse our available items today!