Open Water Vs. Pool Swimming: What’s The Difference?

27th April, 2017

Remember those first summer trips abroad? The sand was plastered to our heels, and our parents would spread a beach blanket down, happily encouraging us to swim in the water where they could see us. Now that you’re a parent, you probably want to recapture those flashes of sun, sea salt and breaking waves with your own child…

However, the ocean can be dangerous for young swimmers, much more so than a pool. Whilst most mums and dads understand this, what is it, really, that makes open water swimming so different? Let’s investigate:

Currents are unpredictable

The loudest, most pertinent issue on your mind – and ours – is likely to be the sheer unpredictable quality of an ocean or river, at least compared to a swimming pool.

Open water doesn’t have limits, and can’t be controlled. Indeed, it puts you at the whim of a current, which is tough to detect until you’re in the water. Unlike you, it will never tire, and it’s incredibly hard to fight against.

Plenty of strong, capable swimmers have fallen prey to a current when they least expect it. A pool, by contrast, is stable and measured, with an even motion across the length of the water.

Top tip: Look out for beach flags and warning signs before swimming in the sea.

Pools are warmer

When we swim, we flex our muscles a lot, pin-wheeling our feet and arms. And since exercise heats us up, that surely keeps us toasty in all kinds of conditions, right?

Well, to an extent that’s true. But the ocean is far colder than a heated swimming pool. The temperature is also prone to sudden drops. We mustn’t forget that too much time there can induce hypothermia, which makes it very tricky to swim back to shore.

Top tip: Stick to the shallows and bays where the water tends to be warmer.

Foresight is hard to gain in open water

When we look at a pool, we can suss it out pretty quickly. There’s the ‘deep/shallow’ divide; there are the steps; there’s a life guard if anything goes wrong. The sea, however, is much harder to judge effectively.

For instance, you might jump in for a swim around a cove, only to realise that the rocks are too slimy to grip when you’re ready to come out. Changing tides are another factor; they can be pernicious, especially when you lose track of time.

Also, how can you be sure of the depth? Sea beds don’t conform to our wishes. They dip and rise at random. So it’s a good idea to test out the area yourself before giving the children free reign of the seaside.

Top tip: If you’re unsure, ask a local. They should be able to advise on safe areas to swim.


We don’t want to dissuade you from an open water experience. After all, it’s a true highlight of a holiday abroad. Practice swimming techniques in the pool, and follow these tips in the ocean, to embrace the joys of open water swimming. They’ll gain confidence in no time at all…