Guidance for safer sea swimming

Before you go   

Sea swimming has many great benefits, however it does come with some risks.  Whether you're new to open water swimming or a regular sea swimmer, it's always important to carefully consider your abilities and your health.

Talk to a healthcare professional about sea swimming and any possible risks.

Arrange to swim with a buddy or group and let people know where you intend to swim.  

Choose your day and always consider the tides and weather

Always check the weather forecast and the sea conditions before swimming, including the tide times. You can find tide times online at VisitBrighton.  You can also purchase a tide-timetable from the Seafront Office.

Brighton & Hove’s coastline has winds that come from multiple directions which can cause dangerous wave conditions on the shoreline.

The main currents in the sea are lateral along our shores. The'll take you either east or west dependent on the tide movement. 

Always swim parallel to the shore and stay in your depth.   In certain locations and with spring tides the currents can feel like they're pulling you along and out to sea.   Stay calm and swim diagonally across to the nearest point on the beach. 

Check the tide times and have awareness of spring tides, this is when tides are the strongest with the highest high tides and the lowest low tides. The currents are extremely strong on spring tides which will make for a harder swim. 

At high tides when strong onshore winds are in force it may be difficult to enter and leave the water, it's best not to swim at these times. Brighton & Hove has a severe shore-dump which is the first wave hitting the beach.  This wave is extremely powerful and demands respect from swimmers.  Consider choosing another day for a swim.   

Remember large crashing waves also place emergency services’ lives at risk and make it impossible to reach those in need.

Northerly winds also called offshore winds flatten the water but can create the danger of being swept out to sea.

Heavy Rain Fall results in water run-off from the roads. We recommend not to swim until the surface water has cleared.  Normally 2 tides time. 

Choose your spot

It's important to remember:

  • to think about where you can enter and exit the water and whether there are hazards you need to bear in mind
  • to avoid swimming near groynes and piers as these have fixed currents that can be very dangerous and difficult to negotiate
  • that during lifeguard season, always swim between the red and yellow flags
  • that outside of the lifeguard season, there is no lifeguard service on the beaches 

Have the right equipment

Make sure you:

  • wear a wet-suit for warmth as it will increase your buoyancy and reduce the risk of cold-water shock
  • wear a brightly coloured swim hat and use a tow float so you are visible
  • change into dry clothes and hat and bring a hot drink and in winter a hot water bottle
  • use booties or suitable footwear to avoid the dangers of the steep shingle beaches and to avoid cuts and falls

Lifeguards

Our lifeguards patrol the city's beaches from the end of May until the first weekend in September. 

There is no beach lifeguard service outside the lifeguard season

What to do in an emergency

Phone 999 and ask for the coastguard if you see anyone in danger or attempting to enter the water in dangerous sea conditions.

The Seafront Office has direct links to the coastguard and can respond immediately.

You can also notify your nearest Lifeguard if they're on patrol.

Know the risks

Remember even on a clear sunny day, the sea temperature can drop your body temperature quickly.

Acclimatise to the water temperature

Acclimatise to the water temperature by steadily increasing the time spent in the water, up to 10 to 20 mins. This is important to reduce the risk of cold-water shock or hypothermia. Start with only a few minutes and build up the time. In winter when temperatures start to drop reduce the time spent in the water.

You may not recognise that you’re becoming hypothermic. Swim buddies should look out for symptoms such as:

  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • slurred speech

If you believe someone is becoming hypothermic:

  • leave the water as quickly as possible
  • get into dry clothes
  • have hot drinks and a hot shower as soon as possible

Being submerged in cold water can impact on your swimming ability. Always assess before getting in and know your limits.

Alcohol

It's never safe to go into the sea after drinking alcohol, even a small amount speeds up the onset of hypothermia in cold water. Drinking also reduces your capabilities. You may also think you're a better swimmer than your true ability and take unnecessary risks. This can risk the lives of others. 

Pre-existing medical condition

Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition or taking medication runs additional risks by subjecting their body to a sudden drop of temperature by entering the sea.

Pier and groyne jumping

Pier and groyne jumping is extremely dangerous. You should never jump off any structure directly into the sea as you can never be sure how deep the water is or if there are submerged objects below. Jumping will also encourage others to do so who may know less about the conditions, tides and sea depths. These are called copycat incidents where someone thinks they can do as others, lacks the knowledge and has an accident. 

Common risks

Find some common risks by the coastline like rip currents and cold-water shock from The Royal National Lifeboat Institution. They also have guidance about staying safe on the beach and in the water.