Raise your hand if you’ve ever broken a rule before? I’m willing to bet every single person reading this article has intentionally broken a rule and perhaps some of us continue to break rules to this day.
They say rules are meant to be broken, but I think that only applies to ineffective, arbitrary rules that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Before you decide to ignore a rule, you have to first understand why that rule is in place and what it is meant to do, and why your method is better than that rule (if it even is).
Note that rules are very different from laws; laws are enforced by the police and have serious consequences if you break them. You can break rules but not laws!
When it comes to something like safety rules in swimming, you should adhere to them as best as possible. To summarize why there are so many rules in place at swimming pools, water parks, as well as why there are so many “best practices” when swimming outdoors, it is all so that you don’t die. To be blunt, if you don’t follow these rules, you are greatly increasing your chances of getting injured or dying.
In the water, there are so many things that can kill you. Anything from currents, water temperature, distance, depth, marine life, boats, rocks, kelp, surfers, jet skis, kayakers, cramps, and the list goes on. You’ll realize that a rule like wearing a bright swimming cap is mandatory for outdoor swimming so that you can avoid some of these dangers. That is an example of a great rule that you should absolutely follow!
Keep reading on to learn about the most common and important safety rules in swimming and why you should definitely be following them.
The rules are in place for everyone’s safety
At the end of the day, swimming is an activity that has many risks. Even swimming at the pool, a safe and controlled environment, has inherent risks. It’s only so safe because swimming pools have strict rules that pool-goers must adhere to and lifeguards to enforce the rules.
Unfortunately, all bets are off when you’re outdoors. Depending on where you are, there might not be any lifeguards nearby and few swimmers around to offer any assistance. Without a swimming partner, you are alone and at the mercy of nature, and she can be indifferent to your need for safe swimming conditions.
That said, there are still best practices you can follow to make things safer for yourself or others around you. You should adhere to these rules and best practices to decrease the chances of injury or loss of life. Ignore these swimming safety rules at your peril!
Common rules and why you should follow them
In this section, I talk about rules that you should follow both in swimming pools and outdoors.
Dive only at designated areas
Diving injuries are extremely common if you dive in areas you aren’t supposed to. Swimming pools have designated diving areas located at the deep end of the pool, monitored closely by lifeguards, that swimmers can safely dive into. The area beneath the diving board is kept free of other swimmers so a diver won’t collide into them.
The main problem when diving is that it’s easy to misjudge how deep a body of water is. It could be extremely shallow, in which case you will plunge directly to the bottom and sustain serious injuries. This is true for both the indoors and outdoors – do not dive into a body of water until you have confirmed it is sufficiently deep enough and that there are not any dangerous objects underneath.
You might have heard falling into water at a great height is like falling directly onto a sea of concrete. According to this 1965 study conducted by the FAA, the upper survivable limit of a human falling directly into water is around 186 ft (57 m) assuming a velocity of 100 ft/sec (56 m/s). Higher than that, and the impact could kill you outright, or cause you to lose consciousness or break some bones ultimately resulting in drowning.
The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco is one of the most popular suicide sites in the world. It stands 245 ft (75 m) above water, and jumpers take approximately 4 seconds to hit the water at a speed of 30 m/s. There is only a 5% survival rate for the initial impact, with the rest passing away due to drowning or hypothermia.
With regards to diving outdoors, there is a temptation to show off to friends and dive from a tall cliff, or to do many flips and twists mid-air during the free-fall. This can cause you to have an awkward landing, and if the height is great enough, a fatal one.
If you specifically see a sign somewhere that says “NO DIVING”, I recommend you heed it, because some daredevil probably tried diving there and lost his/her life.
No running, pushing, or horseplay on the pool deck
The pool deck is often wet and slippery. Best case scenario, if you fall you might get a wicked bruise or sprained wrist. Worst case scenario, people have fallen head first and gotten brain damage or lost their lives.
Is it really worth it to run just to get to your destination a few seconds faster when the risk is so great? Power walking is basically the same as running and has the same issues.
Falling on the pool deck is no joke. Older pool-goers are less likely to do this, but it’s mostly kids and teenagers that break this rule. If you’re a parent with children, please drill this into their heads: do not run on the pool deck.
Shower before entering the pool
Too many people rely on the chlorine in the swimming pool to neutralize harmful pathogens. However, they do not realize that chlorine takes time to do so, and that chlorine is being used up aggressively if people are intentionally introducing bacteria into the pool.
Swimming pools tell guests to shower for hygienic reasons. Not everyone has the same standard of cleanliness. Some people don’t shower for days and think it’s fine. Others just finished a workout and want to relax in the pool, but if they don’t rinse themselves in the shower, they are introducing a ton of germs to the pool.
By enforcing a rule that everybody should shower before they enter the pool, they can keep things more hygienic and reduce the likelihood of waterborne diseases being spread.
Only wear appropriate swimwear
Swimming pools have an intuitive dress code. Essentially, it can be summarized like this: wear swimwear, and don’t wear anything that isn’t swimwear.
Unfortunately, too many people don’t understand what swimwear is. They think that basketball shorts and T-shirts are acceptable swim attire. Not so.
Swimsuits are typically made of spandex and nylon because these materials are stretchy and fast-drying. The issue with regular clothing worn as swimwear is that they absorb a ton of water, restrict movement, and ultimately weigh you down.
Swimwear is specifically designed to be lightweight so that you can freely move around and not feel like you are being dragged down by your clothing.
There is also the issue of clothing deteriorating due to exposure to chlorine, and having these particles and strands of fabric clogging up the filters.
Never swim alone
Swimming at a public pool, you are never truly alone. Outdoors is a different story. If you want to do open water swimming, you had best go with a buddy. If anything goes wrong during the swim, you at least have a chance of being rescued.
If you are swimming alone and you suddenly get a nasty cramp or suffer a medical episode, your fate is sealed.
There are so many other risks of swimming outdoors: marine life, rip currents, boats and jet skis, water temperature, and so on. Are you sure you really want to brave the waters alone with everything seemingly out to kill you, or would you feel safer with someone else next to you?
Follow lifeguard or staff instructions
If you’re at a facility or event and are given a list of rules to follow, just follow them as best you can. If you’re in the middle of swimming and a lifeguard or event staff starts giving you instructions, just listen to them.
They likely have dealt with people breaking their rules often. They probably witnessed firsthand an accident that led to a rule being implemented in the first place. Don’t think you know better and just follow their instructions.
Wear a swimming cap outdoors
When you’re swimming outdoors, due to how potentially risky it is, you need some extra protection. One essential piece of swimming gear is the swimming cap.
Swim caps are great. They streamline your head shape so you can swim faster. They can also save your life by keeping your head warm and being very visible so that people can easily spot you in the water.
This helps boaters, jet skis, kayakers, and so on see you in the water. If you suddenly get pulled swept away by a current and are calling for help, this helps rescue workers spot you more easily. Don’t swim without a swim cap.
Wear a wetsuit outdoors
You’ll notice that the water outdoors is significantly colder than at a swimming pool. Outdoors, the water temperature is at the weather’s mercy, and even idyllic conditions are often still colder than the temperature controlled water at swimming pools.
Since water is so effective at conducting heat away from your body and the risk of hypothermia is very real, most outdoor swimmers wear a wetsuit.
It’s true that a wetsuit can restrict your movement and increase drag, but staying warm is too valuable of a benefit to ignore. Plus, wetsuits provide some extra buoyancy so that you can stay afloat more easily. If it’s sunny outside, wetsuits can also provide UV protection for the portions of your body that are covered up.
There are so many benefits to wearing a wetsuit, and you would be crazy not to wear one when swimming outdoors.
I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, but these swimming safety rules are in place for a reason. Do not brush them off as annoying and anti-fun. There are still safe ways of doing things such as diving in appropriate areas or swimming with a buddy.
I haven’t even covered all of the rules, but honestly, a lot of it is just common sense. For instance, you probably shouldn’t drink and go swimming. If you have any health conditions, see a doctor before you go outdoor swimming. If you’re a parent, always keep an eye on your kid(s), and so on.
It is incredibly important that both children and adults are aware of these rules and follow them to the letter, because a swimming accident can be fatal. If, after reading this article, being in a body of water seems too intimidating but you still kind of want to jump in, then put on a life jacket and don’t take it off until you’re out of the water.