Charlotte Winship investigates the demand for open water swimming venues.
Coastal bay, lake, reservoir or river – water vistas have been highly prized by property owners for centuries for their visual charm and the associated therapeutic wins of being near water. The appeal of water is growing as more and more people discover that the benefits of getting wet far outweigh those benefits of viewing water from afar.
The health advantages of cold water swimming are significant with various studies1 reporting benefits to immune system, mental, hormonal and cardiovascular health. In 2018 the British Medical Journal published a case report2 which found that a programme of regular cold water swimming had helped treat a woman suffering from depression and anxiety. Early research from the UK Dementia Research Institute Centre at the University of Cambridge also indicates that cold water swimming may slow the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia by increasing levels of the protein RBM33.
Other testimonies and anecdotal evidence also support the theory that outdoor swimming can have a significant benefit to mental health. Open water swimming fan and yoga instructor Alix Coleby says: “I started this practice for my mental health because I realised the ‘feel good’ endorphins help stabilise me when overwhelm and anxiety kicks in”.
Recent growth in demand
With mental illness on the rise, and one in four adults experiencing a mental health condition4, this could explain the recent growth in open water swimming since 2020.
Indoor swimming venues have also been forced to close due to the Covid pandemic and swimmers have had to become more inventive in finding safe places to get wet. This has led to increased numbers of people enjoying their local coastline and waterways, looking for new places to swim and discovering the benefits of outdoor swimming.
According to a report by Outdoor Swimmer, the number of people regularly enjoying outdoor swimming in the UK increased threefold in summer 2020 compared to 2019 and there are now more than 1 million people enjoying the sport.
But with water comes risk and this dramatic increase in popularity has raised concern for people swimming unsupervised in potentially dangerous locations and conditions. This has given rise to a number of open water swimming clubs opening up across the UK seeking safe locations to operate supervised outdoor swimming sessions. These events offer safer access to water for both amateur leisure swimmers and more experienced and competitive athletes.
Dave Knight from Do3 has been running open water swimming events at the 600m lake at the Compton Verney Estate in Warwickshire for the past year and regularly sees up to 200 swimmers coming to each of the three sessions he hosts each week. Compton Verney provides a beautiful setting within the ‘Capability’ Brown parkland. The sessions run out of hours either first thing in the morning or early evening when the parkland is closed to regular visitors.
Dave and his team are all experienced open water swimmers and triathletes who have put in place rigorous procedures to ensure the health and safety of swimmers and preserve the historic lake. These include regular water quality checks, lifeguards, first aiders, rescue kayaks, spotters, an online booking system, strict lake entry and exit points, swim competency tests, tow floats and the management of numbers to ensure social distancing.
For Compton Verney, this relationship offers a small out-of-hours income for minimal effort on their part and the opportunity to reach a new audience and build public awareness of their art gallery and other events and venues.
Larger financial rewards come from one-off large scale events. Compton Verney are planning their first Triathlon in 2021. The estate’s event coordinator, Anona Van Lawick, explains: “Health and safety risks are a huge consideration. Our CCTV and site security has been incredibly important to ensure swimmers only engage in the activity safely and under the strict watch of Do3. Swimming is not permitted outside of swimming hours. There is also an environmental and ecological balance to watch”.
A new revenue stream
As demand for safe open water swimming continues to rise, this could be an opportunity for land and venue owners with access to a body of water. If you have a lake, moat, pond, reservoir or disused quarry that you are happy to share with members of the public then this could open up a new revenue stream, particularly during quieter, early morning weekdays. If you have on-site catering available then there may also be the opportunity to develop your morning trade by offering post-swim hot drinks and breakfasts. Health and wellbeing retreats are also becoming very popular; the opportunity for guests to experience open water swimming while also enjoying other therapeutic activities is a definite winner.
However, before you don your wetsuit and dive into the world of open water swimming, consider the following:
1. Work with an experienced, accredited and qualified local outdoor swimming organisation
Unless you are already experienced in the risks of outdoor swimming then I highly recommend you collaborate with someone who is. They will be able to help put in place all the necessary infrastructure, planning and procedures to ensure the safety of swimmers. Get in touch with your local club – social media is awash with clubs, associations and other organisations. If you cannot find one near you then the Outdoor Swimming Society, NOWCA or Swim England may be able to help.
2. Check your water quality
Water contains microorganisms that can be harmful to humans. Purpose built swimming pools can manage these with the use of chemical treatments such as chlorine however more natural bodies of water are harder to manage. If you intend to open your water to the general public then you will be required to regularly test the health of your water under the UK Bathing Water Regulations 1991 and 2013. You will also need to check underneath the surface of the water for any hazards that could cause injury to swimmers.
3. Public liability insurance
Make sure your public liability insurance covers you for open water swimming activities and make sure anyone you are collaborating with also has the appropriate insurances.
4. Emergency plan
Be prepared. Put in place a procedure for everyone to follow in the case of an emergency. Make sure everyone knows what the procedure is and rehearse it. Qualified first aiders and lifeguards are essential.
5. Manage your swimmers
An advanced booking system will help you manage numbers as well as selling timed tickets and helping to gather information about your swimmers in advance for health and safety. You will need to have a strict checking in and checking out process on the day to ensure you know who is in the water at any time.
Make sure swimmers know what to expect when they arrive – where to park, any facilities available or not available, swim routes and any particular characteristics of the water. Keep an eye on weather conditions and give early notification if you need to cancel or postpone your event. Two-way radios for on-shore and off-shore lifeguards and spotters are also crucial in the event of an emergency.
7. Open water swimming is seasonal
The optimum time of year is May to September when water temperature is at its best, though it rarely rises above 15oC at any time of the year. Though some like to swim all year round, winter swimming is not advised for novice swimmers unused to the reaction of their body in cold water. Inexperienced cold water swimmers can quickly suffer shock and become incapacitated. This is another reason to work with experienced, professional swimmers and lifeguards who can quickly spot the signs of someone in trouble.
About the Author
Charlotte Winship has over 20 years’ experience transforming good wedding and events venues into great ones. She is an expert in helping venues reach their ideal customers, maximise sales opportunities, increase profitability, establish effective teams and streamline venue operations. 07493 350303 / email@example.com / www.charlottewinship.com