Wild swimming in Oxford's waterways
Oxford is a city built around waterways, which include all of our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and the canal. They provide many benefits to the city’s communities and environment.
The waterways are regulated and managed by the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency, and the council has responsibilities as the landowner of the river banks.
Swimming in our waterways, also known as wild swimming, has become increasingly popular but can be dangerous. If you choose to swim in Oxford’s waterways please understand that you do so at your own risk and know the wild water code.
Hinksey Outdoor Pool offers a clean and safe environment for outdoor swimming.
Wild swimming risks
Before you jump in, make sure you know the risks of wild swimming.
Wild water can be full of man-made and natural pollution. This includes sewage run-off, industrial and agricultural chemicals, toxic algae and Weil’s disease from rats. This pollution is invisible but can cause illness, from stomach upsets to kidney and liver problems.
Oxford City Council is committed to working with partners to improve water quality in Oxford. We hope this work will lead to a safe bathing site. Until then, water quality remains a risk to swimmers.
We are part of the Thames 21 project to improve water quality in Oxford for swimmers and other river users. This project is a partnership between Oxford City Council, End Sewage Pollution mid-Thames Group, Thames Water and The Rivers Trust, and is hosted by Thames21.
There have been several deaths and many injuries connected with people jumping from the city’s bridges.
Objects beneath the water can be invisible but dangerous. There are many bicycles and trolleys in the waterways, as well as submerged branches and other rubbish. Our waterways also have an industrial past, and there are hidden remains under the water.
Strong currents and deep water
You can’t tell by looking how easy the water will be to swim in. Even slow looking water can have an undercurrent that makes swimming challenging, and the strength of the current will change with the water levels and rain fall upstream. Deep water will stay very cold even in hot weather, with the risk of cold shock that can put even strong swimmers in danger.
Wild Water Code
We recognise that many people nonetheless choose to go wild swimming in Oxford’s rivers and lakes. For those that do we urge them to observe the Wild Water Code.
- Wild water – swimming in rivers and lakes is very different to a pool. In addition to strong currents, the cold water temperature can easily shock, affect your ability to breathe and can make you tired very quickly
- Look before you leap – before getting in, are you going to be able to get out again? Steep and slippery banks can make it hard to get out and if tired you can get into difficulty
- Hidden dangers – you never know what’s beneath the surface. Hazards include rocks, broken glass, bikes, needles and pollution in the water.
- Rock bottom – Never jump from height – particularly Oxford’s bridges. The water beneath can be very shallow and there are hidden dangers
- Don’t drink and drown – drink or drugs are a lethal cocktail when swimming. They can limit your ability to swim, lower your inhibitions and increase the chance of taking dangerous risks.
- At times of flood, never enter the water
- Raise the alarm – call 999 – never try to enter the water yourself