Open Water Swimming – Position Statement

Swimming indoors just doesn’t do it for some people. The open water in our canals and reservoirs can therefore seem like an exciting and fun place to either cool down or grab some outdoor exercise, literally submerged in Scotland’s beautiful scenery. We recognise that Scottish Outdoor Access rights extend to swimming (although not to structures such as dams, locks and lifts), but please remember that swimming in open water can be dangerous, particularly for children or the inexperienced.

Whilst we actively encourage the recreational use of our Scottish Canals – by boats, bikes, boots and beyond – we discourage swimming in our canal network. Boat movements and lock operations can cause the water depth to change and create strong currents below the surface; and the confined space of the channels can reduce visibility for swimmers and other water users, including motorised vessels.

Our reservoirs may be a more appropriate location for you to enjoy open water swimming although some are very remote, and none have licensed supervision or support. Where possible, Scottish Canals will indicate where people can access our reservoirs to swim. In return, you can help to minimise problems when you decide to swim in reservoirs by:

  • Knowing where you are swimming and check out the conditions before going in – check out local knowledge and advice (speak to clubs or other swimmers), look for safety signs and follow the advice, make sure you have safe entry and exit points, swim parallel to the shore not away from it.
  • Being aware of water hazards – don’t swim near water intakes, abstraction points, spillways weirs, and locks as they have hidden dangers
  • Making sure you are properly equipped – wear a wetsuit if you feel the cold, and don a brightly coloured swim cap and tow float to increase your visibility to other water users
  • Beware of the cold – slowly enter the water to get used to the conditions and avoid Cold Water Shock, and wherever possible stay away from deeper water, which will be colder
  • Respect other users and the environment – avoid disturbing anglers and other water users, and do not pollute the water
  • Make sure someone knows where you have gone and why – have the means to call for help, especially in our more remote locations
  • Know how to stay safe and get help – familiarise yourself with any public rescue equipment, understand basic survival and rescue, if you get into trouble ‘Float to Live’, call 999 if you are involved in an emergency.

Another option is to join other like-minded people, enjoying supervised open water swimming in the Forth & Clyde Canal, at Pinkston Watersports – a concrete lined basin with clean water treated to bathing water quality.

Check out advice from National Water SafetyRLSS and Respect the Water for more information about open water swimming.

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