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When swimming in open water, the key is to pick a fixed object, whether it’s a buoy or a pier, and something else behind it that is also fixed.

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Leaving the secure confines of the pool – lane lines, ropes, placid water – can be panic-inducing. When it comes to swimming in an ocean or a lake, the most important thing you can do is remain calm.

“Most people have some kind of anxiety or fear that they bring with them,” says Peter Scott, head coach and president of Sea Hiker, a Vancouver-based company that offers open-water swimming lessons. “Staying close to shore helps a lot,” Scott says.

Scott recommends going only 10 or 20 feet from shore to build your comfort level. And swim parallel to shore to better orient yourself.

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Once you’re comfortable enough to venture out in any direction you choose – one of the joys of open-water swimming – you’ll need to learn to sight, assuming you want to follow a particular course.

Don’t pick a single object to steer by. “If you look at a single object you actually have no way of knowing if you’re going in a straight line to it,” Scott says.

The key is to pick a fixed object, whether it’s a buoy or a pier, and something else behind it that is also fixed. If the two are lined up, you know you’re on line. The greater the gap between them, the more off-course you are.

“You have to check where you are every five to 10 strokes. Most people don’t swim in a straight line at all,” Scott says.

Of course, if you simply want to enjoy meandering in the water, and you’re not, say, a budding triathlete, sighting isn’t as essential.

Whatever your reasons for being in the water, however, do some research about the current, undertows, riptides – anything that might endanger you.

Abandoning the safe predictability of the pool doesn’t mean you should be reckless. Be safe, be calm and be a bold swimmer.

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