Open Water swimming is becoming an increasingly popular sport and can be a safe and fun means to enjoy the outdoors when proper precautions are taken.

The following information is provided to assist those who wish to swim in the waters under the jurisdiction of the Crouch Harbour Authority [CHA].
It is essential to keep in mind that these tidal waters are in constant use by an eclectic mix of vessels of all sizes and categories including but not restricted to large commercial shipping [in and around the Burnham on Crouch area] powered and sailing vessels of all sizes, jet skis, water skiers and fishing vessels.
The CHA further supports competitive racing organised by the numerous sailing clubs on the rivers Crouch and Roach.

Safety is Paramount.

  • Know your limits, build up experience and acclimatisation to cool water slowly
  • Be aware of temperatures, which can be cooler than imagined even during the summer months
  • Do not swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Consider wearing wetsuits and other neoprene accessories, goggles, and suitable footwear
  • Be Seen – Wear a high visibility swim cap
  • Tow a safety float to further improve your visibility to others
  • If possible, swim with others but definitely let someone ashore know where you are going and what time you expect to return
  • Cover cuts and wounds before swimming
  • Don’t jump in before checking for obstructions or for depth, and before getting used to the water temperature.
  • Be aware of tide strength and times of high and low water. Powerful tides can overpower even strong swimmers.
  • At all times whilst you are in the water- KEEP A GOOD LOOKOUT – Do not assume you have been seen.
  • Swim close to the bank/shoreline. Crossing the river should be avoided at all times, unless absolutely necessary but particularly in areas where there is a high density of vessels underway. Don’t swim in the
  • The Crouch Harbour Authority must be contacted and informed before the commencement of any organised swimming event. Safety/Recovery vessels will be required to be in attendance on such occasions.

Swimming in tidal rivers including the River Crouch at Burnham can pose specific risks, particularly if you are not an experienced swimmer.

The gravitational effect of the moon means that twice each day a massive tidal wave moves along the English coast from north to south. As this tidal wave approaches the level of water rises –the ‘Flood Tide’– and as it passes the river falls – the ‘Ebb Tide’. When the moon is closest the tidal wave it pulls along after it is largest – so called ‘Spring Tides’ and when its farther away the tidal wave is smaller – ‘Neap Tides’. Right through the year we have this fortnightly cycle – a week of Spring Tides followed by a week of Neap Tides. On Spring Tides, the levels rise higher and fall further – there’s a lot more water moving around, so tidal streams are much stronger than on Neap Tides.

In Burnham, like in most tidal rivers, the Ebb Tide tends to run more strongly than the Flood Tide. In particular, very soon after high water the tide turns and starts running strongly towards the sea. The current sweeps round the bend opposite Creeksea and then runs down strongly close along the north shore of the river through Burnham town, past the privately owned pontoons and jetties.

You might not notice that the tide has turned and that all the moored boats are straining back on their mooring chains. Very close in to the seawall it may not be very obvious, but out near the ends of the pontoons the tide may quickly start to run at up to five knots – that’s a very swift walking pace and much faster than most people can swim.

Swimming on a Spring Ebb can be particularly risky. If you try and swim against the current, you could quickly run out of strength. In such a situation it would be wiser to go with the tidal flow and try to edge over back towards shore, where the current will be less strong.

As a rule, generally, only get into water to swim if you are sure of where you can exit safely, and only if you understand the tidal and local situation thoroughly.

You can find out on the CHA Website where there are free Tide Tables for the whole year showing the times of the two high waters and two low waters each day (clock times) and the heights of high and low water. As a guide any high water with a height of 4.5m or more is a Spring Tide, which are the ones that run most strongly and should be avoided, especially on the ebb (ie. after high water). But even the Neap Tides can have strong currents – so unless you really are confident of your strength as a swimmer, best only go into the water very close to the shore, within your depth, where the tide runs more slowly.