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Clothes for Survival Swimming and Rescue Training

We often get asked what clothes are best for lifesaving, survival swimming, or pool training. The tips below are designed to allow for a variety of approaches and should be interpreted positively and flexibly.

Training Realism

Clothes add greater realism to your swimming and lifesaving practice, while building up your strength and confidence. This also makes your lessons more interesting and a lot more fun.

Any clothing worn for survival swimming, rescue training and assessments, should be representative of the type of clothing in common use, like what you may be wearing when faced with a potential rescue situation.

Lifeguard teams learn to swim well in their uniforms and and use clothes as rescue and towing aids. This is essential for effective rescues. When running initiative tests, dress the rescuers in red and yellow, whilst the casualties wear regular clothes.

Are Clothes Heavy in Water?

Not really. Clothes weigh very little in water. Throw an item of clothing into a swimming pool and notice how slowly it sinks, if at all. Pull it out of the pool and it gets heavy with all the water it soaked up. Cotton and fleece soaks up more than unlined nylon rainwear.

Don't Confuse Slow Down with Weigh Down

Many people who haven't tried swimming fully clothed, wrongly think they get pulled down by the weight of wet clothes. But that only happens when you come OUT of the water.

When you wear your clothes in the water, they just float around you. The soaked up water only displaces water which would have been there anyway. Water weighs nothing in water, so they only weigh you down by their DRY weight, minus the weight of water displaced by the fabric.

However, the water which is soaked up by the fabric, or collects inside your clothes, will slow down your movements. This makes it harder on your muscles to move you forward and thus improves training results.

Acceptable Clothes for Swimming Pools

"Proper swimwear" is normally required, but there isn't really a standard definition for this, otherwise it would be stated. Ask the pool management what their dress code is, especially for lifesaving and survival swimming.

Lycra swim shirts, body suits and speed suits are considered swimwear and should therefore be acceptable in most pools. Check that the fabric is chlorine resistant.


Recently, dress codes in many pools have been relaxed to allow for additional modesty. Many public swimming pools allow T-shirts in the water, but do not allow other street clothes into the pool, except for survival or lifesaving training.

Clean T-shirts and 3/4 length shorts are alright, depending on the staff on duty. People probably won't look twice if you choose to wear your T-shirt in a swimming pool. Just ask and check the pool rules before swimming in clothes.

Keep the Pool Clean

Public pools often have specific rules which you may come up against when you want to do lifesaving training. Ask at the reception if you can wear any training clothes in the pool. Explain that you want to do realistic survival swimming or lifesaving training. Sometimes you have to ask for the pool manager.

The purpose of clothing rules is to minimise the bacterial load by ensuring that nobody can thoughtlessly rinse their dirty clothes in the swimming pool. Otherwise the pool chemicals would have to be monitored and topped up more often, "just to be on the safe side". More chlorine means more stinging eyes and faster rotting swimwear.

Some pool operators allow you to swim in clothes if you bring an extra set to swim in. This rule tries to maintain a clear distinction between clothes worn in the pool and street clothes worn outside.

Proper Fit

Your swimming clothes should fit well, not too tight or too loose. Loose and baggy clothes may get caught on something, particularly on slides. Clothes should be unlined to avoid pockets where water or air gets trapped.

Lifeguard anoraks, tracksuits and other sportswear are best for survival swim training and lifesaving classes. These robust clothes can be used as towing aids.

Clothes must not restrict your movement or cause significant drag in the water, again for safety. The idea that "resistance builds stamina" is evidently considered inappropriate by some safety officers.

Avoid exposed metal rivets or fasteners, because they could cause injury to other swimmers or scratch and damage the slides. Some "approved" Speedo "original swim shorts" have a small metal eyelet at the bottom of the back pocket, where it could easily cause scratches.

If you train outdoors be aware that most sun lotions wash off and leave you exposed to sunburn. Appropriate clothing keeps you covered.

Pool Safety

Pick up right away any clothes you may drop to the pool bottom, as they may confuse the lifeguards. Large items of clothing floating in the pool can be mistaken as casualties and are also a hindrance for swimmers. Move any clothes you currently don't need for your training to a safe place on the pool side, out the the way of other pool users.

Fresh Clothes

Change into fresh swimming clothes on-site. They must be clean and colour-fast and should consist of "man-made" fibres that don't leak dye. The material has to be in good condition, not fraying or shedding fluff which could block the pool filters.

Go through the showers in these clothes before entering the pool. Make sure you rinse and soak them well. Dry spots show the pool staff that you haven't taken a proper shower. Besides, it's great fun.

Take a Shower Before and After Exercise

There's a good reason to shower in your kit after gym class, swimming or other sports. As any parent who's washed a child's dirty gym clothes knows, those clothes can be hazardous to your health. But it's not just the smell that can do you in.

Sweaty sports clothes are a prime breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Those warm, moist clothes create a perfect environment for germs to grow, and those germs can make you sick. When athletes get sick repeatedly, the best advice is to take a shower in their kit right after exercise and then change into fresh clothes.

Rinse out Salt, Sweat and Chlorine

Salt, sweat or chlorine can rot your kit. If you have the chance, take a shower in your exercise or swimming clothes after a workout or swim, even if that option isn't popular among other people around you. Shampoo your hair and clothes.

When you take shower after your swim keep your clothes on. Take off any waterproofs after a while and rinse them from the inside. Don't leave any heaps which could create an obstacle.

Then hang your clothes out to dry. Don't leave damp or sweaty clothes in your locker until they can practically walk home by themselves. Wear clean clothes for your next workout or swim. That advice applies to anyone who gets wet, hot or sweaty.

Survival Swimming Kit

The clothes shown here are convenient for survival swimming in open water and will protect you on the beach against rocks, pebbles, sunburn and wind chill. Wear at least one layer of clothing.

Be Visible

Wear brightly coloured swimming clothes and a hat or hood so you can be seen by fast moving traffic. Lifeguard uniforms are easy to swim in as they are designed to be worn for water rescues.

Swim with whatever whatever clothes you feel comfortable in. Just make sure they don't interfere with your swimming ability. Gain experience by swimming in different types of clothes like tee-shirt, sweatshirt, trousers or jeans, anorak or windproof rain suit.

Waterproof clothes are the most practical outfit as they dry quickly, don't weigh much and protect you from wind chill. Depending on their design they hold more or less water when swimming. You can find all sorts of robust and inexpensive training gear in army surplus stores.

Some swimmers like to wear boots or socks, neoprene balaclava hats and wet suits, especially in colder weather if they want to spend more time in the water.

Keep Warm

Always start a session in dry kit. If you plan several swimming sessions, you need need a bit more gear as it is not nice to put on clammy cold clothes after a warm-up break. Remember to bring a change of dry clothes for your way home.

Survival Swimming Kit List

Swimmers should bring three unlined clothing layers (base, middle, outer), as used in canoeing, coasteering, sailing or other adventure sports. High visibility clothes would be an advantage. The following equipment is needed by each swimmer for proper survival swimming sessions:

This will get wet:
This should be kept dry in waterproof bags:

Full Survival Gear

You should wear full gear during training and testing unless otherwise instructed. "Full gear" means two long sleeve tops, trousers, socks and boots, and a helmet where required.

A waterproofed rucksack can be used as a flotation device. A sleeping bag and sleeping mat should be externally attached to the rucksack in a way that it stays dry, but is optional, depending of your training objectives.

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