Swimming safely in open water – Part 4

Contrary to public perception and common portrayals on the screen, a person drowning doesn’t thrash his arms about and cry for help. Instead, he will be motionless in the water. As a swimmer, you should know this. Here are some easy tips to stay safer when swimming open waters.


By Jørgen Melau, Norseman’s Safety Director, a rescue paramedic as well as a six time Ironman veteran,
&  Jonny Hisdal, PhD, associate professor of physiology, and a six time Norseman finisher

Three years ago, Mario Vittone, a rescue swimmer in the US Coast Guard, wrote the article «Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning», which challenges commonly held public perceptions of drowning. We recommend that you read this article, which later spurred many stories in the social media.

So, how can you ensure that your open water swimming is as safe as possible?

Never swim alone. However good a swimmer you are, should anything happen while in the water, you will be unable to rescue yourself. Swimming with someone is not just more fun, it is also much safer. The US Navy SEALs’ special forces do nothing without a buddy, so why should you? While in the water, Navy SEALs work together, and their foremost task is to watch out for each other. So, please learn by their example: When you are out swimming, regularly check on how your swimming buddy is doing. You are responsible for each other.

Choose your swim cap by the color. Have you ever taken part in a search and rescue operation to find a diver lost at sea? Or a hunter lost in the mountains? We have. And I can assure you that while a black, white, silver or blue swim cap makes you almost impossible to spot, a brightly colored swim cap, e.g. red, yellow or pink, will make you easier to spot from vessels closer to shore. So, please wear a cap that is easy to spot in the water. The swim cap we provide for you to wear at Norseman will always come in a bright color. If, to stay warm, you are wearing a neoprene hood (recommended when the water in Eidfjord is cold), wear your swim cap over it.

Swim close to shore. If anything happens, you will be closer to dry land and safety when you swim along the shore. Also, you stay out of the way of most boats and remain in the zone where boaters will expect to see you. Further out from the shoreline, boaters expect to find other boats only.

Wear a wetsuit. In Norway, where water in lakes, rivers and sea rarely exceeds 18 degrees C, a wetsuit is a given to stay warm. Even more so in Eidfjord, where ice melting from the glaciers cools the fjord. But the wetsuit also provides buoyancy and helps you float. Granted, not well enough to keep your head above water, but enough to make it easier for your buddy to help you if you have problems.

Wear ear plugs. Cold water entering the ears will cool down your body considerably. Therefore, it is a good idea to wear ear plugs when it is cold. Ear plugs also protect against ear infections, which is a common problem among swimmers.