Learning How To Sight When Open Water Swimming


Don't lose your way in the open water

If you have just started the transition from pool swimming to open water swimming, one of the first things you will have discovered is the need to learn how to sight. Sighting is something you don’t need to do in the pool, but is a vital skill for keeping you on track when swimming over open water.

Read on for a whistlestop tour of learning how to sight when swimming outdoors.


The single most important tool for sighting is your goggles, take care of them

Make sure you don’t lose your goggles and there are many ways to lose them.

Inspect them carefully the night before the race to make sure the straps aren’t getting perished. You don’t want to find out at the start line that they are going to snap. For the same reason, always pack a second pair that you have already fitted and adjusted to suit your facial profile. Again, wasting time on this at the start line is not a smart use of time.

Goggles often get pulled off in the rush to get into the water. Wearing a second swim cap over the top of your goggles not only keeps your head warm but prevents your goggles being ripped from your head by someone else.

If the swim is crowded, switch to breathing the other side to avoid flailing arms knocking into your face. A whack to the back of the head is not pleasant, but a whack in the face and goggles will be much worse.


Practice breathing from side to side

An early race start can mean that you have the sun in your eyes to one side and in choppy waters there may be waves crashing into you from one side making it difficult to regulate your air intake if you are accustomed to single sided breathing. You might also need to keep an eye on your enemy who could be swimming either side of you and so you need to be able to breathe both sides.

The author of this piece takes a breath to one side. Then, leaving only the eyes out of the water, meanwhile blows out whilst turning the head to look forwards giving valuable seconds to keep correcting course by gathering sighting information. On the next breath the author switches breathing to the other side. This technique is then repeated about every 10 strokes.

Try not to lift your head too high to prevent dropping your hips too low in the water which will slow you down. With this technique, practice makes perfect.

If you find that you are hopeless at two sided breathing then work this into your pool training routine. Practice until it becomes natural to your stroke.


Taking aim and being aware of your surroundings

Looking for landmarks across the water is a skill you need to develop pretty quickly in an open water swim. Before setting off, take a good look at where you are aiming for and the landmarks that will help you stay on course. If this is a buoy to be reached then all is good, but if you are aiming for a position on a shore or the buoy is out of vision when down in the water, then you will need to look for distinctive markers such as a tree, shoreline buildings or an unambiguous feature in the landscape.

Drafting, just like in the pool, saves bags of energy. If you are reading this article, it’s likely you aren’t leading the pack in the swim and so use drafting to help both conserve energy and to keep on course until you have honed your own sighting techniques. Whatever you do, make sure that your lead is going in the right direction though!


What’s your natural pull in the water?

You will need to see how straight you go, and so for the ultimate test, pull your hat over your goggles and aim somewhere. Stronger pull on one side of your body may pull you off course more than you would think and so it is good to be aware of features of your natural technique and how to compensate, as these will factor when visibility is poor for instance.

The strongest swimmers are not always the first out of the water. Often it is the smartest swimmers that excel. To be a smart open water swimmer the only way to gain experience is to get out there as often as possible and learn how to deal with the various challenges an open water swim will present you. Practice technique in the pool and then draw on experience to get you through the race.


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