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Get Swimming

Thank you for attending our Introduction to Sea Swimming and Dipping session, we hope you found it useful and informative.

Hello Swimmers and dippers

Thanks for coming to our session. Next steps: follow Wave 23 on Facebook and Instagram, join our Wave 23 Social Swim Pod Facebook group and come to our regular social swims (or organise your own!). Feel free to leave us a review on Facebook too!

Below are a few of the key pointers from the session. Please let us know if you have any questions or feedback.

Lisa, Jane and Ellen
Wave 23


  • Always check the forecast. Good apps to use are Surfline (formerly Magic Seaweed) which will give you an idea of the wind strength and direction, waves, tide (but bear in mind it is for surfers so take the colour system with a pinch of salt), and the Surfers Against Sewage Safer Seas and Rivers Service to check water quality.
  • Be visible to other beach users, water craft and people on the beach – wear a brightly coloured hat and tow float.
  • Swim with a buddy so that you can look out for each other. There are lots of local groups that you can join for sea swimming – see the links below. Take responsibility for your own swim. If you can’t get a buddy, have a spotter on the shore.
  • Be prepared to abandon your swim if conditions are not right or you do not feel right. Do a dynamic risk assessment when you get to the beach and decide if you need to make changes to your swim, or not go in at all.
  • Always make sure you have clear entries and exits.
  • Get out whilst you are happy/before you feel cold – don’t overdo it.
  • If you have a problem whilst you are in the sea, float to live (see below for more on this).
  • Get to know your local environment.

Local swimming groups

If you are further afield, you may find swimming communities elsewhere, check on Facebook for local groups, or check the following links:

Kit list

  • Swimsuit
  • Brightly coloured swimming hat
  • Goggles
  • Wetsuit
  • Neoprene boots and gloves
  • Tow float (high-vis orange or green) – we like the dry bag tow floats that you can put your phone and keys in
  • Mobile phone (in waterproof pouch and fully charged)
  • Pealess whistle
  • Towel
  • Layers of warm, easy-to-put-on clothes including hat, gloves and socks, in the order you will put them on
  • Warm drinks and food (cake!)
  • Emergency cash (rather than taking your purse on the beach)

General Weather Considerations

The weather can change quickly so always be prepared.

  • Sun – exposure and sunburn (use reef friendly lotion).
  • Rain – heavy rain may cause run-off and sewage overflows. Leave 24-48 hours after heavy rain. You can check water quality on the Safer Seas app (see above).
  • Fog – consider the visibility of both you and the shoreline, and remember it can get foggier quickly.
  • Lightning – stay away from the water/seek shelter.
  • Low pressure – unsettled, stormy, not very swimmable.
  • High pressure – more settled, stable weather.


Wind creates waves, swell (if the wind has travelled a long way over the sea) and chop (if the wind has just picked up).

In Bournemouth, in general:

  • Northerly winds tend to be good for us swimmers as the sea is usually flat.
  • South westerlies create surf which can make entry or exit difficult.
  • South easterly winds create a long swell.

When it is wavy consider how it will be to get in and out, how tiring the swim will be. Challenging waves? Be prepared not to swim or just to splash in the shallows, tomorrow is another day.

In general, waves tend to be larger/dumpier at the Hengistbury Head end of the bay, and smaller at the Sandbanks end due to the shape of the sea bed.

Wave considerations:

  • Entry and exit – if it’s not calm for you to get out, wait for the lull between sets of waves.
  • Getting in when it’s wavy: sideways entry, stay low. If big wave comes, dive through it. Getting out – get to your feet as quickly as possible, keep checking the waves coming in behind you.
  • If the water is rough, you will tire quicker – faster stroke, may kick more = tiring.
  • Front crawl breathing – breathe away from the wave (usually towards the shore) so that you don’t get a wave in the face.
  • Offshore/northerly winds – can look flat calm but you may be pushed out to sea so be mindful.
  • Coastal sea breezes may make it choppy later in the day when it is warm so in summer morning swims may be a safer bet for it to be flatter.


We’re fairly lucky that tides don’t affect our swim too much here at Bournemouth. We have double high tides. When you have a full moon or a new moon, it is a spring tide which means particularly high high tides and low low tides – so faster flowing water and stronger currents as the water has further to go. Neap tide is the opposite so less of a tidal range and usually slower moving water. Slack water is 40 minutes before high tide, when there is the least movement of water and there will be the best visibility.

As a general rule, on an incoming tide the current goes east towards Hengistbury Head. When the tide is going out, the current runs west towards Poole. However, we find that a lot of the time regardless of tide state the current runs from Poole to Hengistbury Head. It may also be affected by strong wind. **Always check which way the current is running when you get in the water by floating on your back and checking which way you drift using a landmark on the horizon. You always want to swim into the current to begin with, then return with the current.**

Rips are bodies of water returning out to sea. Make sure you can identify where rip currents are – usually the flatter bit where the waves aren’t breaking or may be discoloured water etc – so that you can avoid them, but if you do find yourself in one swim parallel to the shore to get out, or float to live and ride it out, then swim out of it and back to shore – don’t tire yourself by trying to swim back through it. For more information, here is what the RNLI says about rip currents.

Problems in the water

We recommend you swim along parallel to the shoreline and within your depth so that if something doesn’t feel right you can quickly stand up and exit the water. If you find yourself in trouble and you are further out, float to live – flip onto your back in a starfish position and float so you can regain your breath/composure etc.

Cold water shock – this is the initial gasp and uncontrolled breathing when you enter cold water, which can last from 30 seconds to around 2 minutes. Enter the water slowly in a controlled manner, breathing exercises can help. Make sure you have your breath under control before swimming. If you are wearing a wetsuit, flush the water in so that you control when that cold water will hit you!

Hypothermia – when your body cools to below 35C – you may experience loss of co-ordination, slurring, confusion, weakness. The dangerous aspect is you’re not really able to gauge your own condition, you won’t really be able to tell you have reached that point – that is the importance of swim buddies keeping an eye on each other.

Afterdrop – you carry on cooling after you get out for up to 20-30 minutes. Get dry and clothed as soon as possible. Don’t rush off. Rewarm slowly.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, loss of energy, strange sensations in your limbs during a swim, it is probably time to get out of the water. The more you swim in cold water, the more you will learn your body’s reactions and what feels right or not.

Book some coaching sessions today

We can help you improve your open water swimming skills and technique in our Tuesday evening group sessions at Southbourne.