There has been a recent revival in sea swimming over the recent years and I could not be more excited about it. Nothing feels better than a refreshing dip into natures plunge pool followed by a rush of endorphins. The best way to stay safe in the sea is to always swim on life-guarded beaches between the red and yellow flags. Brighton has had lifeguards patrolling the designated swimming areas on Brighton’s beaches since May, but this will come to an end on September 9th. Here is a non-exhaustive lift of how to stay safe sea swimming in Brighton and Hove out of season.
1. Call 999 and ask for the Coastguard if you see anyone in danger or attempting to enter the water in dangerous conditions.
Dangerous conditions can include, but are not limited to; big and rough waves, strong winds, it’s night time/dark, it’s very cold, and the person entering the water is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Do not hesitate to call 999, don’t assume someone else will do it. Just call. Do not enter the water yourself and attempt to rescue, this could result in the situation getting worse.
2. Know your tide changes and what this means for swimmers, especially Spring tides.
There are two types of tides, Spring tides and Neap tides. Springs happen on a full moon and new moon approximately every 2 weeks. Neaps happen on half moons. Spring tides mean that the difference between high tide and low tide is more extreme. As a result, more water is moving in a certain direction at a higher rate which will have an impact on the current. If a high spring tide is moving toward a low spring tide the current will be pulling away from the shore, which even for strong swimmers can cause difficulty getting back to shore.
3. Pier and Groyne jumping – Don’t do it!
Jumping off any structure into the sea that isn’t designed for this purpose is extremely dangerous and is not advisable. The problem is you never know what is beneath the surface. Even if the tide is high and you think there is a nice deep cushion of water below you, there could be rocks or debris in the water/on the sea bed that can cause serious injury. Even if you think you know what you’re doing and have checked the river bed before hand, it is still irresponsible as it may encourage others who are less knowledgeable than you to follow your lead and this could put them at risk.
4. Don’t go swimming under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
No matter how much of a good idea it may seem at the time, alcohol has effects on your body that make you highly susceptible to getting into trouble in the water. The English channel is cold, and even on a sunny day the sea could drop your core temperature easily and this will result in the oset of hypothermia. Alcohol speeds up this onset of hypothermia as well as impedes your capacity to swim. Your motor skills will be less efficient and less coordinated. Even if you are a strong swimmer, do not sea swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs. No one is immune to these effects on the body.
5. Know how to spot and escape rip currents
Rip currents are often found around man made structures such as piers and groynes. Some rip currents can run at 4-5mph, faster than Olympic swimmers. A rip current usually looks like a channel of churning water but they can be very difficult to spot. Never underestimate the power of the water. The best way to avoid rips is to always choose a life-guarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags. However if you find yourself caught in a rip being pulled rapidly away from the shore, DO NOT try to swim against the rip. This will exhaust you. if you can stand, wade rather than swim. Aim to move parallel to shore to the left or right of the rip until you are out of the rip, then proceed to swim to shore. Also, always raise your hand and shout for help.
6. Beware of weaver fish and consider wearing swimming shoes.
This might be a less well known danger of sea swimming. These fish (about 15cm long) are found along the British coastline. They are usually found hiding under the sand at low tide with their venomous spiked spines poking out of the sand. A sting from one of these bad boys is seriously painful. Wearing water shoes isn’t a bad idea, and on Brighton’s pebbly beach this can make it easier to get in and out of the ocean. If you do get stung, immersing the wound in water as hot as you can stand for 30-60 seconds will help deactivate the venom. A couple of ibuprofen and paracetamol will also help but anti-histamines will have no effect.
This advice is not meant to scare you or put you off swimming in the sea. Quite the opposite! By highlighting the dangers of the ocean and preparing you with this knowledge you can go forth and enjoy your sea swimming adventures with greater confidence. If you want to take this confidence even further, check out these 6 Things to do at the Sea Lanes, a venue dedicated to open water swimming and swimming related fitness. It is also important to note again that this is not an exhaustive list. For more information visit the RNLI website. Know the risks, be careful out there, and happy sea swimming!