Back in 2021 we wrote a blog explaining how we thought it would be possible to offer safe swimming in Bristol Harbour. We felt that a segregated area away from other river traffic was important, with proper water based safety cover and safe entry and exit, along the lines of a triathlon or other organised open water swimming events. Organising swim sessions at festivals, and providing safety cover at Bristol Harbour Triathlon has taught us that a reassuring face and a kayak or paddleboard to hold onto can be very appreciated, even for confident swimmers.

Back then we felt we couldn’t support “bandit swimming”. As much as we love a bit of activism (especially around swimming in rivers!) we agreed with the council that the harbour is just too busy for individual swimmers to coexist safely with motorboats, ferries and the like.

Two years onwards and it’s been fantastic to see the conversation move towards organised events, culminating in Bristol City Council organising an open water swim pilot this spring – and with Swim Bristol Harbour fully supportive too. The pilot events allowed hundreds to take the water for a reasonable fee, with safety cover provided. It went down really well!

The pilot event took place at Baltic Wharf (where we launch our sessions) and proved to complement our sessions. The swimmers largely arrived by foot and bike, and were courteous on and off the water.

Many had fears of water quality which proved to be unfounded during the summer months. As we know, during the summer the water quality here is actually really good, and tested every week by the council. It’s only after heavy and prolonged rainfall where this drops significantly which tends to be over winter.

The more people that use the water and love it, the more pressure we can all start to put on water companies to clean up their act, so we fully welcome more people using the water.

Above: Bristol City Council image from the swim pilot

The swim events took place in April/May when the water is still fairly quiet. We think it would be great to see how it would work in mid-summer. Our thoughts are that numbers may need to be limited at peak season, so as not to interfere with existing watersports on the harbour.

Our hope is that swimming, sailing, canoeing, SUP and rowing cohabit as they should – there’s more than enough space for everyone! The only way to know for sure is to test it out.

We’d like to see the council decide to do another pilot in peak season and we can’t wait to take a dip now it’s warmer! In the long term we’d love to see something along the lines of a Copenhagen style scheme. Fingers crossed for that!

See you on the water.