Swimming in open water

Includes: Cold Water Swimming, Sea Swimming Outdoors, Adventurous activities, Sports, Water

Age:
7+
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Explore lakes, rivers and the sea

Swimming in open water offers all the fun of taking a dip in a pool, as well as the added thrills of jumping in sea waves, discovering the natural world and maybe seeing fish swim at your feet.

Overview

Girls can swim in the sea, lakes and other open water.

To take girls open swimming, you will need to find a safe local venue and a qualified lifeguard.

Any activity is regarded as swimming once the water is above height of the knee.

Swimming in open water is an adventurous activity and should follow the adventurous activity policy and procedures.

Approved: 5 May 2021
Version: 1.0

Content owner: Adventure team

Planning checklist

If you or another member of your leadership team is running the activity at an external venue/location, follow these extra steps:

  • Arrange for a home contact. Leave any route or other relevant details with your home contact and complete a home contact agreement form. Let them know about any changes to your plans.
  • Tell your commissioner.
  • Get a copy of the public liability insurance of the activity provider before you book.
  • Check you hold the relevant qualification (if one is needed) to run the activity and let your commissioner know you plan to run it yourself. If you aren't sure, speak to your local adviser to check.
  • Check with the venue that they have the correct equipment and, if needed, specialist clothing that will meet the needs of your group.
  • Get any specialist equipment or clothing needed to run the activity not provided by the venue, and make sure this is in good condition and fit for purpose.
  • Check that any equipment is suitably insured by the provider and agree what happens to the equipment if it gets damaged.
  • Ask for a copy of the venue's safety guidelines and risk assessment (if relevant).
  • Make sure you have the correct ratio of participants (girls, leaders and volunteers) to qualified adults (those running the activity if a qualification is needed). This is different to the ratio of leaders to girls.
  • Consider the ability and experience of the participants and any disabilities, access needs or health conditions and plan the session accordingly.

Some venues might ask for a disclaimer or waiver to be signed for each person taking part in the activity. This is something which parents/carers must sign on behalf of their child. You can do this along with the consent form. Parents and carers should be given sufficient information from the provider along with the waiver so they can make an informed decision to sign it or not. Leaders can only sign disclaimers and waivers for their own personal participation. 

If you're working with an external provider or external instructors to run this activity outside the unit meeting space, follow these extra steps. 

  • Arrange for a home contact. Leave any route or other relevant details with your home contact and complete a home contact agreement form. Let them know if you make any changes to your plans.
  • Tell your local commissioner.
  • Tell the activity provider about the ability and experience of the participants and any disabilities, access needs or health conditions that need to be considered when running the activity.
  • Choose a reputable and licensed activity provider (where applicable).
  • Check the qualified adults hold the correct qualification to be able to run the activity (see the information below).
  • Get copies of the instructor qualifications and public liability insurance of the activity provider before you book.
  • Ask for a copy of the providers' safety guidelines and risk assessment.
  • Make sure you have the correct ratio of participants (girls and volunteers) to qualified adults (those running the activity). This is different to the ratio of leaders to girls.
  • Check with the venue that they have the correct equipment and, if needed, specialist clothing that will meet the requirements for your group.
  • Source any specialist equipment or clothing needed to run the activity not provided by the venue, and make sure this is in good condition and fit for purpose.
  • Check that any equipment is suitably insured by the provider and agree what happens to the equipment if it gets damaged.

Some venues might ask for a disclaimer or waiver to be signed for each person taking part in the activity. This is something which parents/carers must sign on behalf of their child. You can do this along with the consent form. Parents and carers should be given sufficient information from the provider along with the waiver so they can make an informed decision to sign it or not. Leaders can only sign disclaimers and waivers for their own personal participation.

For swimming in open water there must be a lifeguard that holds one of the following qualifications:

On beaches, non-patrolled and patrolled

In inland open water

If the lifeguard does not hold any of these qualifications but offers alternatives, check with [email protected].

Where the lifeguard is provided as part of the venue or location, leaders must consider as part of the risk assessment any medical conditions, lack of water confidence, poor swimming ability or other factors that might mean a specific lifeguard for the group is required.

Where the lifeguard is provided by the venue or location, we recommend at least one adult with up-to-date knowledge of water safety and rescue techniques, such as the Girlguiding water safety training module within your group.

Finding a lifeguard

Contact your local swimming club, the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) or the Swimming Teachers' Association (STA) for information on booking a lifeguard.

If swimming in open water abroad, the above qualifications and regulations may not be applicable. The Leader will need to make enquiries about the reputation and safety standards of the activity provider. Contact your international adviser or outdoor activities adviser, or email [email protected].org.uk for more guidance.

Inspect water  for visible signs of pollution, for example rubbish, blue green algae or chemicals.

Make sure girls and parents are aware of the dangers and symptoms of Weil's disease and what action to take if they suspect infection. On the day of the activity, advise participants to cover cuts and grazes with waterproof plasters to help prevent infection.

See our guidance on water activities.

Boundaries need to be marked really clearly with buoys, natural or man-made barriers.

The leader must:

  • Make sure that safety rules and alarm signals have been explained to the girls, as well as the need to obey instructions immediately.
  • Follow water safety guidelines and ensure that the responsible adult helpers are familiar with them.
  • Arrange appropriate lifeguard cover and sufficient responsible adult helpers based on the number of swimmers and their section, the ability of the participants and the type of water.
  • Discuss their responsibilities with the lifeguard(s) and adult helpers and make sure that safety equipment is provided.
  • Consider the conditions outside of the water (changing facilities and how to warm up).
  • Be comfortable saying "no" to entering the water if conditions dictate this or change.

Lifeguards must:

Lifeguards must be satisfied that the conditions on the day are suitable for safe swimming, taking into account:

  • Local advice
  • The weather conditions
  • The location and temperature of the water (water below 12ºC/54ºF is too cold for swimming)
  • The age, ability and state of health of the swimmers
  • Natural hazards, for example weeds, rocks, state of the tide and any visible pollution (chemical or rubbish)

Swimmers must:

  • Be able to swim 250m
  • Be paired up, stay in these pairs and be responsible for watching each other (the ‘buddy’ system)
  • Enter unheated water gradually and come out of the water if they start to get cold

For open water swimming events leaders should ensure that there is sufficient safety provision available meeting the requirements above and where swimmers move more than 20 metres from the shore there should be on-water safety provision.

Adult to child ratios

The ratios below are given as a maximum and ratios must be considered as part of the risk assessment, this may lessen due to any medical conditions, physical ability or other factors.

Leadership team ratio

As this activity will take place outside of your usual meeting place the leadership team adult to child ratio is mandatory.

  • Rainbows: 1:2, at least 2 adults – adults must be in the water
  • Brownies: 1:5 – at least 1 adult must be in water (under 8s 1:2 with adults in the water)
  • Guides: 1:12
  • Rangers: 1:12

There must a be a minimum of 2 adults for all sections.

Qualified adult/participant ratio

There must be one adult with the lifeguard qualifications detailed. Where this is not provided by the venue or location (such as a beach lifeguard) the group must have one adult with the qualifications within the group.

Where the lifeguard is provided by the venue or location, we recommend at least one recognised Girlguiding volunteer with up-to-date knowledge of water safety and rescue techniques, such as the Girlguiding water safety training module within your group.

For swimming in open water, the lifeguard is responsible for all of the swimmers within the group, therefore it is not appropriate for them to be included within the ratio of leaders present. They must also only be responsible for the Girlguiding members present.

Forms

  • An Activity Information and Consent form is required to participate in this activity - PDF | Word
  • A Risk Assessment form is required for this activity - PDF

Remember - you can use one consent form for multiple activities