Sea-swimming is one of the great benefits of coastal living but the ocean can be deadly. The National Water Safety Forum states that 255 people died last year from accidental drowning in the UK, whilst any Brightoner will be familiar with the Argus headlines that arrive sporadically throughout the year about a person – often tragically young – who has died swimming off Brighton beach
Andy White is an open water swimming coach, lifeguard, and one of the founders of Sea Lanes who – we hope – will open a 25m open air pool and national open water swimming centre on Madeira Terrace in 2019. He’s a veteran who’ll regularly swim from the Palace Pier to Hove Lagoon, so well placed to give his ultimate tips for staying safe in the waves.
Respect the Water and Respect Your Ability
This is the most important thing! People will dive in and swim far out without knowing enough about currents, riptides, coldness of the water or their ability in open water swimming. If you’re not sure about your ability, always err on the side of caution.
The Lifeguards Are There To Help. Speak To Them!
Lifeguards are dotted along the beach and on-hand to answer any questions. It’s always worth getting guidance about how the sea is behaving before you go in. Also, tell them if you’re going to do a longer swim around the buoys. Their job is to keep you safe so don’t be shy of helping them do that.
If You Get In Trouble, Roll Onto Your Back
If you get into trouble roll onto your back and put your hand in the air. If you’re close to shore don’t wave as the lifeguard may think you're just waving to someone on the shore. If you’re further out, wave: you need to raise attention.
The buoys are further out than you think
The swimming area buoys might look very close from the shore but they’re further away than you think! The closest are around 100m. If you’re not a confident swimmer it can be easy to get out there, panic at the distance and get into trouble. If you’re not sure swim out with someone else, or on a paddleboard.
Get To Know The Tides
Get Wise To Your Warmth
The endorphin rush you get from a sea-swim in cold water is incredible but get to know your warmth limit. The sea can go from 20°C in September, then slowly starting decreasing. December it will be around 12°C degrees and once you get to March it’’s 6°C"or 7°C". If your fingers or toes start getting cold, that’s the start of mild hypothermia and you need to get out immediately.
Go Swim Against The Rip Current
Brighton beach is famous for its rip current and it can be hugely dangerous. When you’re stuck in a rip current you’ll feel like you’re just treading water and not moving towards the shore. People get into trouble when they keep fighting against a rip current, panic and tire themselves out,
To get out the rip current, swim horizontally against it: parallel to the shore, towards the marina or lagoon. This will take you out of the current that’s pulling you towards the sea and back towards the shore.
Novices - Swim When It's Low Tide
The best time to swim for novice swimmers is lower tide. (When the tide is pushing in.) With a low tide it will be shallower for longer and you can walk out maybe 50m til you are chest deep.
Don't Drink and Dip
This is so important, especially in Brighton where intoxicated people die every year in the sea Drinking alcohol will impair your decision-making and could lead to you getting into trouble. Don’t do it.