Swimmers in the Crouch in June. © 2017 Nick Skeens

The best time to swim in the Crouch is during the months of July and August when the water can be really warm, especially in the shallows where the sun heats up the mud.

Some hardy souls swim in winter, but they are generally old-school toughies and they don’t seem to make them like that any more.

For alternative places to swim, click here.

Where is the safest place to swim in the river?

People often swim between the pontoons that stretch out into the river, but to use those pontoons they must seek permission – except the Town Pontoon by the Anchor Hotel, which is a public facility.

Do take care of the ferry, which regularly comes alongside the pontoon in the spring, summer and autumn months, and, of course, of other boats using the pontoons.

The Town Pontoon in July with the passenger ferry, right. © Nick Skeens

The advantage of swimming between the pontoons is that you will be washed down to the next one if you get tired.

You have to be a VERY strong swimmer to swim across the river because a) at a third of a mile, it’s wider than you think and b) the current is much stronger the further out you go – tide runs faster in deeper water.

The deepest water is on the far side – the channel – marked by red and green buoys that indicate the deepest water for the ships on their way to the Baltic Wharf opposite Creeksea.

Is the river clean?

Up to a point. On some days – on average about seven days a year – it is almost crystal clear and you can see the grey mullet swimming in shoals along the shore.

Clear water doesn’t mean clean water, but tests ten years ago by the CEFAS laboratory (now, sadly, no longer here) showed it was clean and safe to swim in. Since then the sewage farm near Rice & Cole has become more efficient, so it is likely to be even cleaner.

The mud, in general, won’t harm you, though don’t swallow it and do wear something on your feet, because some thoughtless hooligans think it most amusing to throw bottles and glasses into the river.

Be aware that there is no law against boats dropping sewage into a UK tidal river, so it is best to keep your mouth closed when swimming.

Is the river safe?

Up to a point. It has killed people.

The safest time to swim is at slack water and on a neap tide – i.e., the 20 minutes around low tide and high tide. For information about when high or low water is on a given day, see Neap Tides below.

It is always best to choose a warm day, a neap tide (see below) and light winds.

This is NOT a river for weak swimmers.

If in doubt, wear a proper buoyancy aid – they can be bought from local chandlers.

The dangers

On spring tides, the current can run at up to 3 knots and more – a fast walking pace.

Can you swim faster than you can stride? Most people can’t, and even if you could, you wouldn’t be making much progress.

If you find yourself unable to swim against the tide, do not fight it and do not panic  – to panic in a river is to die in it.

Relax, go with it instead, and ‘crab’ towards the shore. As Confucius allegedly said, ‘The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.’ Same principle applies when swimming in the Crouch.

If in doubt, shout ‘Help‘ very loudly and a lot, without panicking.  Wave occasionally so people can locate the source of the shouting.

The chances are someone will hear you, spot you and come and rescue you (if they can without risking themselves). And/or they will call 999, ask for the Coastguard and the Burnham lifeboat will launch to save your life, as it has done many times before.

Be aware that many people have drowned on this river. Best make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Spring tides

These are high tides that occur over four days, every fortnight, usually after a Full Moon or a New Moon. Avoid swimming during them.

Neap tides – the best time to swim

Neap Tides occur every fortnight for a period of 4 days. This is when less water is flowing into the Crouch (because of the relative position of the sun and the moon).

This means the tides are neither very high nor very low and the current is not so strong.

How can you tell the tide is neap or spring?

The tide table tells you whether it is a neap or spring tide, by giving the range of the tidal rise in metres.

If it says the tidal range is between 3.6 and 4.3m, it is a neap tide.

If it says it is between 4.7 and 6.01 (or more) it is a spring tide.

The more the metres, the more water is flowing into the river and the stronger flows the current.

Click here for a current tide table.

Be aware that strong winds create strong currents.

For more on tides, wind and floods, click here.