Wild Swimming in a Lake or Loch – What to Consider

Wild swimming is an increasingly popular activity that involves get out in the great outdoors and swimming in natural bodies of water, such as lakes, lochs, rivers, and seas. It is a fantastic way to connect with nature, breath fresh air, get exercise, and de-stress. However, it also comes with risks and dangers that must be considered before taking the plunge.

Open Water swimming is a fun activity that has been enjoyed by people for centuries, once upon a time it was just called “Swimming”. The concept of wild swimming involves taking a dip in a natural body of water, rather than the chlorine filled local swimming pool. It has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, possibly due to the covid lockdowns. Local pools were closed and more and more people were seeking alternative ways to stay active and connect with nature whilst locked down to a particular area.

There are many benefits to wild swimming. Swimming in natural water can have a positive impact on mental health, as the cold water can trigger the release of endorphins, which can reduce stress and boost mood. It is also an excellent way to get exercise, as swimming is a low-impact activity that can improve cardiovascular health and increase muscle tone.

However, it is essential to consider the risks and dangers of wild swimming before taking the plunge. Cold water can be dangerous, and there may be strong currents, underwater hazards, or water pollution that could pose a risk to swimmers.

Location, Water Temperature, and Weather Conditions

Location

Choosing a suitable location for wild swimming is crucial. It is essential to select a location that is safe and accessible, with minimal risks and hazards. There are many lochs in Scotland and many lakes in England, Wales and NI that are easily accessible with good parking, well maintained paths and water safety stations. Loch Lomond for example. However, there are many remote lochs and lakes that have limited access. These remote bodies of water should only be swam by experienced swimmers, who have good navigation, first aid, and fitness levels. Getting into trouble in the remote Scottish wilderness is no picnic.

You should also consider the water temperature and weather conditions when selecting a location.

Water Temperature

Water temperature is one of the most critical factors to consider when open water swimming in a loch or lake. Cold water can be dangerous, and it is essential to acclimate yourself gradually to the water’s temperature. Most Lochs and lakes will have shallow sections and deep sections. Some lochs can be hundreds of metres deep and this can play on a swimmer’s mind as they enter out beyond the safety of the shallows. Do your research, look up the loch or lake you’re going swimming at, check how war out the shallow areas are, check the depths. Deep water can be warm at the surface but just beyond it, a few meters down, it cad change drastically.

Weather

Weather conditions can also impact the safety of wild swimming. It is crucial to avoid swimming in storms, as lightning strikes are real and they are deadly. High winds and waves can also pose a danger to swimmers in larger lochs and lakes. 

Water Quality and Wildlife

Water quality is a critical consideration when open water swimming. It is essential to swim in water that is clean and safe, as contaminated water can pose a risk to your health. You should also be aware of the wildlife in the water and its potential impact on your safety.

It is important to check the water quality before you swim. You can do this by checking local water quality reports or using a water testing kit. You should also be aware of any potential hazards, such as algae blooms, toxic waste, or sewage, that may be present in the water. SEPA website in Scotland- https://www.sepa.org.uk/. and Environmental Agency for England and Wales https://environment.data.gov.uk/water-quality/view/explore

Wildlife can also pose a risk to swimmers. It is essential to be aware of any creatures that may be living in the water, such as fish, jellyfish, whales in some areas. You should also be aware of any potential hazards, such as underwater rocks, logs, or other debris that could pose a risk to swimmers.

Safety Precautions

There are several safety precautions you should take when out swimming. These include swimming with a buddy, knowing your limits, wearing appropriate swimwear and accessories, and understanding currents and water flow.

Swimming with a buddy is one of the most important safety precautions you can take when wild swimming. Having someone with you can provide an extra set of eyes and ears to help you stay safe in the water. It is also essential to know your limits and avoid swimming in water that is too deep or too cold for your swimming abilities.

Wearing appropriate swimwear and accessories is also crucial for wild swimming. You should wear a wetsuit or other protective clothing to help keep you warm and protect you from underwater hazards. You should also wear a brightly colored swim cap and tow float to help make you more visible to other swimmers and boaters.

Understanding currents and water flow is also essential for safe wild swimming. You should be aware of any currents or underwater hazards that may pose a risk to swimmers. You should also be aware of the water flow and avoid swimming in areas where the current is too strong. Some lochs and lakes feed rivers like Loch Tay and other are part of reservoirs that have active dams!

Legal Considerations

There are several legal considerations you should be aware of when wild swimming. These include private vs. public access, checking rules and regulations, and trespassing and fines.

Private vs. public access is an important consideration when wild swimming. You should be aware of any private property laws and avoid swimming in areas where you do not have permission to be. You should also be aware of any public access laws and follow any rules or regulations that may be in place.

Checking rules and regulations is also crucial for safe and legal wild swimming. You should be aware of any local ordinances or regulations that may be in place regarding wild swimming. You should also be aware of any permits or licenses that may be required for swimming in certain areas.

Trespassing and fines are also potential legal consequences of wild swimming. It is important to avoid swimming in areas where you do not have permission to be and to follow all rules and regulations that may be in place. Failure to do so could result in fines or other legal consequences.

This mainly applies to England and Wales as Scotland has a slightly different system. 

No matter what, leave no trace and respect the outdoors and the environments you are interacting with. 

Conclusion

Outdoor swimming in lochs and lakes can be a fun and rewarding activity, but it is essential to consider the risks and dangers before taking the plunge. By choosing a suitable location, checking water quality and weather conditions, taking safety precautions, and being aware of any legal considerations, you can enjoy the benefits of wild swimming while staying safe and legal.

VII. FAQs

A. Is wild swimming dangerous? While wild swimming can be a safe and enjoyable activity, there are risks and dangers to consider. These include cold water, underwater hazards, strong currents, and water pollution.

B. What should I wear for wild swimming? You should wear appropriate swimwear and accessories for wild swimming, such as a wetsuit, swim cap, and brightly colored clothing to help make you more visible to other swimmers and boaters. Check out our open water gear guide.

C. Can I swim alone when wild swimming? It is recommended that you swim with a buddy when wild swimming. Having someone with you can provide an extra set of eyes and ears to help you stay safe in the water.

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