The term “Never swim alone” crops up in lots of safety information, often from really big, high-profile organisations. It’s a bit too abrupt and bossy for my liking. I suspect it partly originates in water safety advice we give to kids. That makes sense, children often haven’t yet developed the skills to assess risks properly and understand how much difficulty they could get into. Don’t get me wrong, there are huge safety and wider benefits in swimming with others which I talk about in the sister post to this here The Joys and Challenges of Group Swimming. But is it fair advice for adults? Or does it just leave us ignorant of not only the joys of solo swimming but also the risks.
In my opinion I think the “never swim alone” message can do a few things.
- Gives the false impression that if you swim with others, you’ll automatically be safe. Something I covered off in the post I’ve linked above.
- Errs you away from doing your own risk assessment. People often assume someone else has thought things through well when you’re with a group.
- Makes people who do swim alone feel guilty for not following safety advice. Some even become prone to not telling others what they’re doing for fear of being admonished.
- It prevents people experiencing solo swimming when it can be a joyous and safe practice when done well.
I swim alone, quite often, and I know lots of others who do too. Don’t get me wrong I love the buzz of swimming with others. There’s nothing quite like sharing your achievement with someone else, laughing at the ridiculousness of voluntarily freezing your bits off in the middle of winter, sharing post swim snacks. Sometimes though only a solo swim will do.
So, what’s led to me to swim alone? Two main things: Other people’s availability, or lack thereof; and the uninterrupted solitude of going alone.
Both of these are equal for me, neither came first, solo swimming just happened. Some days there’s no-one around when I want to swim or up for the kind of swim I want to do. At times I can’t be bothered to try and organise other people. Sometimes I go on a whim whilst I’m out. Other times I want, crave, need the solitude of swimming alone. I need to escape on my own, away from my family, home, friends, clients. I need that space, knowing that I’m not there to meet anyone’s demands but my own. I don’t need to make conversation, I can fully immerse in the water, nature, sounds, sights, smells, with no distractions.
I’m not a frivolous person, I don’t swim solo because I want to be shocking, make others feel uncomfortable or cause inconvenience for anyone else. It’s taken time, experience and a lot of thought to swim alone.
How do I swim alone? What do I do to feel safe when I swim solo?
- I reign in my margins of error. If I’m somewhere I know well I might stay closer to shore, swim small laps, just dip and wallow rather than swim significant distance. All still bring me joy.
- I’ll be more mindful of the key things that I know influence my abilities, hunger, tiredness, dehydration, hormone cycles.
- I tune into my body more, something I find much easier to do on my own than with the distractions of others. I’ll watch out for clawed hands, the freeze in my toes that means it might be harder to climb out, the chill in lower back that’s my signal I’m getting too col.
- I might take a tow float. This depends on the kind of swimming I’m doing but if I’m going to be away from shore for a while having something to take a rest on or stretch out a cramp is useful. Tow floats aren’t a lifesaving device, they have their limitations too but they’re very handy, more on that here OSS to tow float or not
- If I’m somewhere new I’ll always chose a place I know I can risk assess well. A small pool in a river, a safe waterfall plunge pool, somewhere with easy access and exit points. If I’m on holiday on a beach and my husband’s playing with the kids there I’ll ask him to just keep an eye on me………..if it looks like anything’s gone wrong he can call for help. In fact, the beauty of solo swimming is that it’s taught me to risk assess really well because I can’t assume someone else has thought it through and I can follow the shoal.
- I always let someone know where I am and roughly what time I’ll be back.
- I always work out a rough emergency plan in my head. Remember you have no back up so you’ve got to be able to help yourself.
There are lots of ways to make solo swimming safer, it shouldn’t be hugely risky as long as you take precautions. Do you have any more top tips?
I hope this has been useful and served both a purpose of clarifying things for those who may admonish us solo swimmers and give those who do, or want to, swim alone some things to think about. I gained a lot of confidence and knowledge from this guy Lone Swimmer on my early solo swimming journey and his websites always worth a scroll.
Happy Swimming x