This post is sponsored by UltraSwim 33.3! Join them for the ultimate open water swimming adventure in Montenegro, September 29 to October 2, 2023. Use code US333MSP to get two €33.3 vouchers for official race gear. Register now >

Your first open water swim can feel overwhelming, and may even be a scary experience. It’s totally different from pool swimming, and if you don’t have the right know-how, you can end up having a bad experience. 

To help you prepare for your first open water swim, check out our top five hacks that will help you swim in the lake, ocean or river with confidence. 

5 Tips for New Open Water Swimmers

1. Have the Right Equipment

Open water swimming requires additional gear that you won’t need when swimming in a pool. Set yourself up for success with the right equipment!

  • Swimsuit or Wetsuit: If the water you plan to swim in is cold, we recommend wearing a wetsuit for safety and comfort. If the water will be warm, choose a regular swimsuit that’s comfortable and will stay on. 
  • Swim Cap & Goggles: Wear darker tinted goggles for sun protection, and grab a bright colored swim cap! Even if you don’t normally wear a cap in the pool, we recommend wearing one in open water for extra visibility and warmth.
  • Safety Buoy: The buoy is key for open water. These special buoys attach to your waist and drag along behind you as you swim. They are important for visibility to boats and other swimmers in the water, and can also be used for emergency floatation if you need to take a break. 

2. Survey the Scene

Unlike a pool, open water can expose you to a variety of dangerous conditions, from adverse weather to waves, tides, boat traffic, other swimmers and even wildlife. 

Related: How to Get Comfortable Swimming in Open Water

Before you step foot in the water, take a look around you and make sure your surroundings are safe. If you’re not sure, check with a lifeguard or talk to experienced swimmers.

During this stage, it can be helpful to plan your swimming route. Where will you swim to? When will you turn around? How far are you going to swim? Many public beaches have buoys in the water that you can use as a guide. 

Plan ahead so you know exactly what you’re going to do in the water. 

3. Stay Safe

Keeping in line with tip #2, safety should be a top priority when swimming in open water. Once you have all your gear prepped and you have planned your swim route, check off these final few safety items:

  • Do you have a buddy? You should NEVER swim alone in open water. Whether you have a buddy swimming with you, a lifeguard watching you, or a buddy kayaking beside you, make open water swimming a group affair. The bigger your group, the more you’ll stand out to boats and other watercraft. 
  • Are you in shallow water? Oftentimes you can swim comfortably in water that’s shallow enough to stand in. You won’t need to swim super far out to get a good workout. 

4. Focus on Technique

Now, it’s time to get in the water! Open water swimming has a few key differences from pool swimming, technique-wise. Let’s break it down:

1. Breathing

Breathing technique in open water is almost the same as pool freestyle, with one key difference: Sighting. Every 4-10 strokes, you’ll need to lift your head up and look forward to keep yourself on course. If you don’t do this, you risk swimming in a crazy, zig-zag pattern.

Practice sighting in a pool to get your rhythm down…soon enough it will start to feel like second nature!

Between your sighting breaths, breathe as you normally would in freestyle, keeping one eye and one ear in the water as you turn your head to breathe.

2. Pull & Recovery

Your recovery will be a bit straighter than the bent-elbow recovery most pool swimmers are taught. 

When your hand enters the water, stretch forward and initiate your pull with a high elbow – we call this Early Vertical Forearm.

3. Distance Per Stroke

Don’t spin your arms as fast as you can while you swim. Instead, focus on pulling as much water as possible with each arm stroke. This way, you’ll go further with each stroke…and you’ll swim faster as a result. 

5. Track Your Swims

We recommend swimming with a smartwatch to accurately track how far you have swum. This is especially important for cold water swims in which cold exposure is a factor. 

Try tracking your first open water swim with the MySwimPro app on your Apple Watch or Garmin. Get real-time distance and heart rate data, plus a detailed GPS map of your swim after you’re done. Analyze your performance with a look at your 100 pace for your entire swim!

Between open water swims, swim at the pool with MySwimPro’s personalized, guided workouts on your wrist. 

So You’ve Mastered Open Water Swimming…What’s Next? 

If you’re hooked on open water after your first swim, it’s time to register for a race! Check out UltraSwim 33.3’s Epic Adventure Swim Races, hosted in some of the most breathtaking locations around the world. 

Join their four-day swim race in Montenegro, September 29-October 2, 2023. You’ll swim a total of 33.3 kilometers across six swims, alongside like-minded swimmers from around the world who crave adventure.

Swim in a new location each day, swimming point to point, instead of endless, boring laps. You can race solo, do a relay with a buddy, or compete on a team of up to four swimmers.

Register now using code US333MSP to get two €33.3 vouchers for official race gear!

Comment below if you have more questions or tips about open water swimming. We’d love to hear them! Download the MySwimPro app for guidance in your open water swimming journey.



  1. I’m a double amputee below the knees swim 20 minutes and 15 laps in a. Olympic swimming pool. Using hand fins but need a larger pair of hand. Fins I also have a idea for leg fins but need help with development

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