Serious open-water swimming is an amazing sport, but it requires a lot of physical and mental strength. You need to be a strong swimmer, and—as a general rule of thumb—in good enough shape to swim at least 500 to 1,000 yards without stopping. But you also need the mental fortitude to remain calm and focused when things suddenly get rough, or you can find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
Changing water conditions, weather, and other environmental factors can unpredictably alter your situation in an instant. You may find yourself a significant distance from land, struggling to retain full control over your body, and quickly starting to become anxious or scared.
And panicking during an open-water swim is dangerous.
It’s important to head out into the open water with a solid understanding of what to do when things become stressful.
4 Interventions if You Panic During an Open-Water Swim
- Flip onto your back. It’s easier to breathe this way, so float or swim a relaxed backstroke,close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. Take the time you need to calm yourself.
- Talk to somebody else. If you’re with a workout buddy or other swimmers, chat with them for a minute or two so you can stop focusing on you anxiety and calm down. If you’re in a race, signal for the safety kayaker and talk to them. This is one reason it’s a good idea to always swim with someone else.
- Start heading towards shore. The further out from land you are, the more likely you are to panic. If you start feeling nervous and don’t think things will improve for you, turn towards the shore. Your anxiety should reduce as you get closer.
- Request help. If you’re with a friend or family member, in a race, training with other swimmers, or even just around other swimmers you don’t know, ask for help if you need it. In a race, there are safety personnel for this purpose. Be proactive and ask someone to assist you as soon as you realize you need it; once you’re in a full panic, it can be much harder for someone to safely and effectively help you.