Swimming in rougher conditions

Please note: Always stay within your limits. If you are unsure – don’t get in. You can always wait for calmer conditions. 

If you are going to enter, always ensure you are confident you can get in and out safely, and beware of strong currents in rough seas. Swim with swimming buddies and look out for each other.

Swimming in rough seas – or survival swimming – can be incredibly fun and exhilarating. Low tide is a great time to get used to swimming in choppy conditions as you will easily be able to stay within your depth and the waves are generally shorter in height. You can find out the tide times at Magic Seaweed.



At high tide, we often get a big shore break in Brighton and Hove. The waves are taller in height and break with a lot of force. This can make it tricky to get in and out, especially on the stony beach. At high tide, you need to get past the break to be able to safely swim. If you sit on the beach and watch the waves, you’ll see they come in sets, with a period of calm in between. Wait for a lull in the waves and take that as your opportunity to run in.

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Standing sideways to waves below waist height will help you to stand your ground and not get knocked over. Anything above waist height, try diving under and through it. To do this, dive as low as possible, making sure you are underneath the white crest of the wave as it passes. If you do get picked up by a wave, hold your breath and try and relax and roll with it until it eases up, and you can resurface.

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Once you are in, if there is a big swell do your best to stick together as it can be easy to lose track of your swimming buddies as they float above and below you. Sighting can be especially challenging in big waves so make a note of a tall landmark to keep track of where you are, or how far you have drifted.

If the waves are coming from one direction, you can breathe unilaterally to save a few lung-fulls of seawater. It is also worth trying to look back towards your toes as you turn to breathe when swimming freestyle. Getting a mouth-full may be unavoidable in choppy conditions. If this happens stay calm, remember you can float on your back until you catch your breath and are ready to carry on.



As the waves break, the huge amount of water deposited needs to return to the ocean. This creates backwash, a powerful suction effect which, when strong, can quite literally knock you off your feet. Some people find it useful to wear neoprene boots to help with quicker exits on the pebbles. When exiting, keep looking behind you to keep track of any oncoming waves you may need to dive under or brace against. Don’t enter unless you are confident you can get out.

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Be mindful of strong currents. Sometimes you may find yourself swimming backwards and needing to get out at a different place to where you entered. If you find yourself getting dragged down the beach, be careful to get out in good time so as not to end up as groyne fodder. It can be great fun to walk back and jump in again for the ride.



In a nutshell:

  1. In rough conditions, swimming at low tide is safer as you can stay within your depth.
  2. Never get in unless you are confident you can get out.
  3. Always swim with swimming buddies.

Look out for each other. Have fun, and swim safe.




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