Open-water swimmers warned to be careful after spike in calls to emergency services

Open-water swimmers warned to be careful after spike in calls to emergency services

Swimmers are being warned to be careful if taking to open water. It comes after a spike in calls to emergency services in recent weeks. Picture: Denis Minihane

Swimmers craving the freedom of the open sea have been urged to take extra precautions after a spike in calls to emergency services in recent weeks.

A number of incidents in relation to open-water swimming are resulting in increased demands being placed on search and rescue organisations, including the coastguard and RNLI, the bodies said.

Issuing a joint safety plea, the coastguard and RNLI said: "Over the past week, eight separate incidents arose in the Dublin Wicklow area alone, with a number of other incidents being reported around the country. 

"Most people who participate in open-water swimming do so safety but some, and in particular those who are new to the sport, may be unaware of important safety measures which can help them avoid getting into difficulty."

Coastguard head of operations, Gerard O’Flynn, said: "Seasoned open water swimmers have a great deal of experience and do observe proper safety precautions. However, the dangers this time of the year far outweigh the challenges that apply in  summertime."

RNLI water safety lead, Kevin Rahill, added that cold water and currents can tire a swimmer quickly and make it harder to return to shore. 

"Lifeboat crews are seeing a lot more callouts to people who are taking part in water-based activities by themselves and while it is great to enjoy our beautiful waters, this time of year, the water temperature drops and, of course, it is dark for longer," he said.

One of Cork's most experienced sea swimmers, Dee Newell, whose Instagram page dee_from_the_sea offers advice and experience to swimmers, said the message from the coastguard and RNLI was timely.

The impact of Covid-19 and the closure of swimming pools has made the thought of swimming in open seas more tempting to would-be dippers, she said, but wintertime also brought more challenges.

Even in summertime, you should never swim alone. Bring someone with you and be visible to them at all times. You should always stick to what you know and avoid spots that are unknown to you.

"A good rule is to always leave the water feeling like you could have done more, so that you are not too tired. The cold can also be deceptive, so I would advise wearing a wetsuit in this weather — it's not enough to just wear a T-shirt. 

"I would always have a tow float [a buoyancy apparatus] because it is bright, that way boats and jet skis can see you," she said.

The impact of Covid-19 and the closure of swimming pools has made the thought of swimming in open seas more tempting to would-be dippers. Photograph: Justin Farrelly.
The impact of Covid-19 and the closure of swimming pools has made the thought of swimming in open seas more tempting to would-be dippers. Photograph: Justin Farrelly.

The RNLI and coastguard said open-water swimming is a relatively safe activity when done with the correct knowledge and some preparation. 

Those who are new to the sport can protect their own wellbeing by observing some key safety precautions, they said.

They include: 

• Always check the weather forecast and understand the local effects of wind, tides and currents.

• Never swim alone and have somebody ashore who is familiar with your plans and ideally can observe your progress.

• Only swim in sheltered areas with which you are familiar and swim parallel to the shore.

• Ensure that you are visible from the shore. 

• Slowly acclimatise to cold water to reduce the risk of cold-water shock.

• Dial 112 and ask for the Coast Guard if in doubt.

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