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Swimming safely with sharks

Swimming safely with sharks

There are reports of wild water swimmers encountering sharks many times a year in the United Kingdom.

No matter the country, there is always a risk that open-water swimming could lead to a seal or shark encounter.

Although sharks are often misunderstood, it is important to know how to avoid sharks and understand their behaviour.

This article will provide tips to help swimmers avoid sharks and explore diverse shark species and behaviours.

Tips to help swimmers avoid sharks

Here are Cold Water Swim’s top tips for swimming safely with sharks.

1. Stay close to the shore.

It is always beneficial for open-water swimmers to stay close to the shore, especially when sharks could be present in the water.

Bigger sharks, such as the basking shark, are too big to swim in shallow waters, so they will likely stay out in the deep sea.

However, smaller shark species, such as reef sharks, are found closer to the shore, so you should be vigilant when swimming off the coast.

Swimming close to the shore means you’ll be able to hear any nearby warnings of a shark from lifeguards or people on the beach and quickly exit the water to safety.

2. Swim with companions.

Swimming with friends is another effective way to avoid shark attacks. Sharks don’t have the greatest of eye sights, and they rely on other heightened senses, such as smell, when hunting.

Swimming in groups takes advantage of this weakness, as sharks often distinguish see one group of individuals as a larger whole.

However, swimming by yourself could make you appear like prey to a shark as they may find it difficult to tell the difference between a human and a seal.

3. Avoid dusk and dawn.

It may be wise to avoid swimming in low light hours as it can be extra dangerous due to the reduced visibility.

As well as stronger tides at night, depending on the moon, many shark species are most active during dusk and dawn – often when they are feeding.

In the dark, you may not be able to spot a lurking shark, so always take caution if you do choose to go for a night-time swim and carefully scope out the area before getting in. We recommend a head torch too!

Open water swimming at dusk and dawn can be the most beautiful time to swim, so we know this is hard to hear!

Avoid dusk and dawn
shark at dusk

4. Don’t swim with open cuts.

Saltwater is excellent for healing cuts. However, if these cuts are still open and bleeding, you must stay out of the water if sharks could be nearby.

It’s also worth noting that avoiding swimming whilst menstruating is recommended when sharks could be nearby.

All types of sharks have an acute sense of smell, allowing them to pick up on the scent of blood from far away.

The smallest amount of blood can increase your chances of a shark attack; for example, great white sharks can detect blood from over a quarter mile away.

So next time you dive into the sea, give yourself a once over for any open wounds to ensure you are swimming safely with sharks.

5. Swim in areas with lifeguards.

Swimming in areas handled by lifeguards is always recommended, especially when you could be near sharks. Lifeguards have excellent vantage points on the beach, making it easier to spot sharks or any attacks.

They are often equipped with walkie-talkies for fast communication down the coast, allowing swimmers to be alerted as quickly as possible.

Sometimes lifeguards also have helicopters patrolling on the lookout for any dangers in highly populated shark areas, like on the coasts of Australia.

Local beaches are your best bet for lifeguard patrols, but you can designate a lookout if you are swimming in isolated spots with a group. Always wear a bright tow float to stay visible in the water as you swim.

6. Learn about shark behaviour.

There are over 400 species of sharks, meaning characteristics and behaviours can vary from species to species.

However, most sharks are curious animals – meaning they will likely swim up to anything that looks out of the ordinary, such as a human.

A curious shark can cause a swimmer to panic and demonstrate erratic movements, which, to a shark, can resemble an injured animal, often leading them to attack.

Sharks get a bad reputation as some species are friendly and don’t impose a threat to humans.

For example, Hammerhead, leopard, and whale sharks (the largest fish of the shark family) are all relatively friendly sharks.

So if you see these in the wild, there’s little risk of any harm – granted, no swimmer or diver probably wants to brush up against a fin any time soon!

Learn about shark behaviour
Whale Shark


What types of sharks are present in the UK?

There are many kinds of sharks known to frequent UK waters, such as:

  • Basking shark
  • Shortfin mako shark
  • Blue shark
  • Porbeagle
  • Common thresher
  • Spurdogs
  • Bramble shark

Luckily, you won’t be bumping into great white sharks soon if you’re in the UK! But follow our tips on swimming safely with sharks if you encounter any UK natives.

What equipment can scare off a shark?

A range of products on the market can reduce the risk of harm from sharks. Most use electric magnetic signals that interfere with the shark’s sensory receptor, causing it to swim away. This doesn’t harm the sharks in any way.

New technology allows shark deterrent products to function without batteries, chemicals or electricity, ensuring no harm to marine life.

In addition, you can wear bands on your wrist or ankle (or both) that are perfect for swimmers.

Another useful piece of equipment to reduce the chance of a shark attack is specially designed wetsuits that take advantage of sharks’ poor eyesight.

The design is black and white striped, which intends to break up the silhouette of a swimmer. The wetsuit makes you look less like a seal to a shark causing the shark to look elsewhere for its next meal.

Why is it important to protect sharks?

Sharks must be protected, as, like all life on earth, each species plays an important part in a wider ecosystem. Take sharks out of that equation then there’s a drastic knock-on effect on all ecology, not just marine life.

Sharks help maintain food webs and control the population of fish and invasive species. Not only this, they cycle nutrients and reduce the risk of disease in marine life.

Sharks allow marine life to thrive in coral reefs and the deep sea, from plankton to turtles!

Why is it important to protect sharks?
Hammerhead Shark


As cold water swimmers, we can safely say we would like to avoid sharks while swimming in the wild.

Sharks can be very dangerous animals, but we hope this article has helped you to understand them to be a bit more.

The vast majority of shark species will stay away from humans, but we hope the tips highlighted in this article will help you swim safely with sharks.