If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you swim laps regularly. Maybe you’ve mastered a few strokes and compete in races, too. 

Many swimmers like you assume that because you’re a good swimmer, you aren’t at risk for drowning. Unfortunately that’s not true! Even very skilled swimmers can drown.

In fact, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages, according to the World Health Organization

What can you do to stay safe? Read on for tips to avoid dangerous situations that could lead to drowning.

Why Do Advanced Swimmers Drown?

Strong swimmers are more likely to take risks in and around the water, which can put them in dangerous situations that can end in loss of life. 

Sure, a strong swimmer might be able to tread in calm water and swim to safety. But what about in a strong current, or in extreme cold? Swimming doesn’t always happen in a controlled pool setting.

Whenever you’re around the water, it’s important to drop your ego and take your safety – and the safety of others – seriously. 

5 Scenarios That Cause Advanced Swimmers to Drown

Swimming can switch from fun to dangerous in the blink of an eye. Make sure you know how to stay safe in the following situations.

1. Prolonged Breath Holding

Some swimmers may pass out underwater after episodes of prolonged breath holding. This is called shallow water blackout. If they aren’t rescued quickly, they could die.

Extended underwater training or difficult hypoxic swim sets both put you at risk for shallow water blackout. Breath training can be valuable, but be smart – don’t hold your breath for extended periods of time, and make sure to take adequate rest during hypoxic training to allow your body to recoup its oxygen stores. For most people, there’s no need to hold the breath for longer than 25 meters at a time. 

2. Extreme Heat or Cold

The elements can play a role in drowning for even the most experienced athletes. Extreme heat and extreme cold are both dangerous.

Swimming in hot weather in warm water may cause heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include weakness, muscle cramps, nausea and dizziness. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke if left unchecked, which can be deadly.

Olympic swimmer Fran Crippen died during an open water swim race in 2010, due in part to what experts say was heat exhaustion. 

Related: Is Cold Plunging Safe?

On the other side of the thermometer, cold water is just as deadly. If the body isn’t acclimated to the cold water, it may go into cold shock, which is characterized by loss of breath control and muscle spasms. Both of these symptoms make it difficult for even good swimmers to swim properly or rescue themselves. 

To succeed in cold water swimming, make sure to acclimate slowly over a long period of time, and wear the right gear, such as a wetsuit. In hot water, know your limits, hydrate and shorten your swims to avoid overheating.

3. Currents & Rip Currents

You may be a strong swimmer in calm water, but can you handle a strong current or riptide? Don’t be overconfident in your abilities when it comes to currents. 

Learn how to spot a rip current at the beach, and always swim with a lifeguard present. If you do get caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Instead, swim parallel to the shore to escape. 

Rip currents can be spotted from higher ground if you know what to look for:

  • A narrow gap of dark, calm-looking water that is between areas of breaking waves. 
  • A channel of choppy water that looks different from the surrounding water.
  • Water that is a different color than the surrounding water. This is due to sand or sediment being carried away from the beach.

Be mindful of regular currents when swimming in rivers or oceans. Currents can easily sweep you away and into more dangerous waters. If you’re riding on a boat in choppy water, be sure to wear a life jacket.

4. Intoxication

Alcohol, drugs and swimming do not mix. Dozens of elite swimmers have drowned after getting in the water while intoxicated. 

Alcohol and drugs impair your judgment and may cause you to take risks that you wouldn’t normally take. They may also affect your coordination and make you disoriented. 

The safety tip here is a simple one: Don’t swim while you’re under the influence. 

5. Swimming Alone

Experienced swimmers may feel that they don’t need a lifeguard watching them. And most of the time, their swims go off without a hitch. But all it takes is one thing to go wrong just one time for you to wish a lifeguard was watching.

Related: 5 Tips for Beginner Open Water Swimmers

Swimming under the supervision of  a lifeguard gives you a better chance of surviving if something does happen. Lifeguards are trained to help in a variety of situations, including shallow water blackouts, cardiac arrests, seizures, dehydration, severe first aid issues and more. 

In addition to lifeguard supervision, it’s also a good idea to swim with a few buddies. Look out for each other and enjoy your swim together!

Strong swimmers don’t need to fear the water, but they do need to respect it. Wherever you swim, be smart, stay alert and know your limits. Doing so will keep you safe!

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