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How to Swim Safely

29 March 2021

A group of people in wetsuits and orange swim hats heading for the sea

Safe swimming at Salcombe, and around South Hams beaches, is a key message for South Hams District Council, as the busy holiday season gets underway.

Most people enjoy having a dip in the sea, especially when the weather start to warm up and the water laps invitingly against the shoreline. This holiday period, South Hams District Council is urging all swimmers, whether weekend bathers, or intrepid wild sea swimmers, to be safe and visible when swimming.

The majority of swimmers stay on lifeguarded beaches, between red and yellow flags, but where do you swim when there aren't lifeguards nearby?

The Salcombe Harbour Master urges swimmers to swim where boats are expecting you to be, and never, ever, in the boating channels. This means you cannot swim across the estuary, from one side to the other. He stresses that it is exceptionally dangerous and you are endangering your life and that of other people by doing so.

To those swimming in the River Avon, particularly between Aveton Gifford and Bantham, the Council ask you to take extra care to be seen. Swimmers often do not realise how very difficult they are to spot from a boat, and it can be really dangerous when there are a lot of craft out on the river.

Wherever residents and visitors may be swimming around the South Hams this holiday season, please take care, as tourist destinations are likely to be extra busy.  To try to keep everyone safe, here are some simple precautions when using the District's bathing waters. 

  • Enter cold water slowly so you have time to adapt to the temperature properly before swimming.
  • If you are going to be swimming or using paddleboards or floatation devices, make sure you check the weather and tide times carefully.
  • Make sure someone knows whereabouts you are swimming and always take a phone in a waterproof phone pouch; it could save your life if you get into difficulties.
  • For any swimmers, but especially for wild sea swimmers, wear a brightly coloured hat and use a tow float for greater visibility.

Swimmers are at very great risk from boats and jet skis if swimming in open water without any visibility aids. Rather than swimming alone, enthusiasts might be interested in the many organised swim groups within local communities. 

A South Hams District Council spokesperson said: "It's so important to be safe in the water when swimming or using watercrafts. The water is always very popular with families and we urge you to keep a very careful eye on your children and please leave any inflatables at home.

"The sea holds such great appeal to a wide number of users, not just swimmers, but also increasing numbers of paddle boarders along with surfers, canoers, kite surfers and boaters. We ask everyone to take extra care in the water, use the correct equipment and prepare carefully for the sea conditions. Simple things like taking your phone with you in a waterproof pouch in case you get into difficulties are so easy to do, but could actually save your life.

"It's going to be an exceptionally busy season with lots of people staying in this country, with limitations on overseas travels, which is bound to have an impact on our District. We're certainly going to be respecting the water and doing our bit to protect the emergency services who are going to be hugely stretched with the extra visitors, so let us do what we can to be sensible and not put undue pressure on them. We're looking forward to a wonderful and welcome end to a very difficult year.

"Finally, please beware of rip tides. If you get into difficulties and find yourself pulled out to sea, try to relax as much as you possibly can. Fighting against the currents will tire you out very quickly. When you are no longer being pulled out to sea, if you can stand, wade back towards the shore. If you cannot stand, then swim parallel to the shore, until you can swim back to safety. By raising your hand and shouting for help, you can quickly raise the alarm.

"If you are on the shore and see someone in difficulties, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard."

Rob Stuteley, RNLI Lead Lifeguard Supervisor for South Hams said:

"There are well-documented physical and mental health benefits of swimming in the sea, but it can also be very dangerous if you are unaware or under-prepared.

"There are a number of things to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time in the water such as not swimming alone, staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards, which sounds obvious but is crucial to avoid any delayed effects of the cold.

"We would also always recommend checking with your doctor before trying it for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.

"If in any doubt, stay out of the water. If you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call 999 or 112 immediately and ask for the Coastguard." 

The RNLI's key safety advice for taking a dip is:

  • Never swim alone - always go with someone else to a familiar spot
  • Always check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height
  • If in doubt, stay out - there is always another day to go for a swim
  • Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink to help you warm up again when you come out of the water
  • Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
  • Be seen - wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
  • Acclimatise to the water temperature slowly - never jump straight in
  • Stay in your depth and know your limits
  • If you get into trouble remember FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
  • Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
  • If you or someone else is in trouble call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard

You can find more information on beach safety and how to enjoy cold water swimming at the RNLI website here:

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