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Wild Swimming Etiquette: Respecting Nature and Fellow Swimmers

Wild swimming is more than just exercise; it's a communion with nature. Wild Swimming is being fully immersed in the environment and ecosystem. When we immerse ourselves in the open waters, it becomes crucial to embrace a set of ethical guidelines to ensure the preservation of the environment and the harmonious coexistence of swimmers.

Leave No Trace (LNT)

The main rule of wild swimming is to leave no trace. Whether you're in a pristine mountain lake or a hidden coastal cove, make sure to carry out everything you brought in. Respect the natural surroundings by avoiding littering, and consider picking up any trash you may come across—even if it's not yours. This way, we contribute to maintaining the beauty of these wild spaces for others to enjoy.

Use Environment-Safe Products

Several states and countries require the use of reef-safe sunblock, and have regulations on what products can enter wild waters. Typically, these products are mineral-based, using zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

Respect Wildlife

Nature is teeming with life, and encountering wildlife can be a magical part of wild swimming. However, it's crucial to observe animals from a respectful distance and avoid disturbing their habitats. Granted, sometimes it's hard not to swim into moon jellies or spook tiny lobsters on the ocean floor. Once, my swim pal swam headfirst into a fish, while another karate chopped a massive snapping turtle that was completely camouflaged on the water's surface. Do your best to maintain a peaceful and non-intrusive presence to allow wildlife to coexist harmoniously with swimmers.

Be Considerate of Others

I've had so many negative interactions with fisher-people over the years, with them assuming I had intentionally swam across or into their lines (even though the fishing lines are literally designed to be clear and invisible). I've had to veer pretty far out to make sure I wasn't going to get tangled on a line. I try to sight towards shore regularly if I'm within 20-30 feet away from where folks may be fishing. If I see any blobs that looks like they could be someone fishing, I give the shore an extra 10-15 feet of clearance as I pass to avoid altercations.

I've also had run-ins with other swimmers. I've sighted incoming swimmers that have their heads in the water, taking 20-30 strokes directly in my path, never looking up. I've let swimmers collide with me so they become aware of the need to sight. Even though I'm treading water right in front of them, because they never sight, they swim right into me, and then blame me for being in their way. As a swimmer, it's your responsibility to be aware of your surroundings and swimming path. Sight every 6 -15 strokes, depending on your breathing pattern. Don't assume other swimmers are going to evade you while you blindly bulldoze a path.

I've also had some pretty wild situations with swimmers swimming with unsafe equipment or in unsafe ways, like using paddles, swimming long periods of backstroke, or swimming on top of me to pass me. Hand paddles, especially if the swimmer using them isn't sighting, can cause a lot of damage. I had a swimmer (triple whammy!) swim across my back while doing backstroke with paddles. I had attempted to swim out of their way as they swam perpendicular to me, and I thought I had successfully evaded their strange maneuvering. Unable to see their surroundings, they took a sharp turn towards me, still swimming backstroke, and just pummeled my back with the sharp edges of the plastic paddles. After they swam onto me, they started yelling at me, claiming I hadn't been watching where I (swimming freestyle and sighting every 6-9 strokes) was going.

Don't be that person. Make sure you're swimming in a way that keep you and others safe.

Look Out for Each Other

While wild swimming is a solo endeavor for many, it's crucial to look out for your fellow swimmers. If someone appears to be struggling or in distress, offer assistance or seek help if necessary. Establish a sense of community where swimmers support one another, creating a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone.

One of the reasons I bring a rope or paracord in my open water kit is to be able to tow someone or something else in. I was once swimming and spotted a kayaker in distress. They had injured their shoulder and couldn't paddle back to the shore without pain. I was able to clip my tow line to them and help swim them back to shore.

There are also techniques for rescuing a swimmer in distress, and having a buoy and additional tow line really help in those scenarios. Being able to instruct a swimmer to hold onto your buoy or tow line as you help kick to shore or attract attention while keeping you both afloat is possible with those accessories.

Educate and Advocate

As a wild swimmer, you are an ambassador both swimming and environmental conservation. Educate others about the importance of preserving the environment, following ethical guidelines, and fostering a culture of respect. By sharing your passion responsibly, you contribute to the positive reputation of wild swimming and inspire others to embrace these principles.

Consider educating others outside of the open water swimming scene too; swim instructors, especially in underserved communities, are in short supply. Studies have shown that the most effective drowning prevention method is educating others about water rescue and basic swimming techniques. Organizations like the WaterStrong Initiative focus on train-the-trainer programs to help spread the knowledge of basic life-saving techniques to high-risk populations.

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