Snorkelling & Swimming

Snorkelling and Swimming Safety in the Indian Ocean

Updated: 2023-11-16T18:09:14.855Z
Snorkelling and Swimming Safety in the Indian Ocean

Can I swim anywhere in the Maldives?

Short answer, no. Many resorts have a house reef which is free to explore as much as you like. You will likely be given information at the beginning of your stay which will include a resort map with the snorkelling channels marked and the house reef, if there is one. For those which don’t have a house reef, there will likely be a regular boat to take guests from the island to a local snorkelling spot.

The map will likely also show where there are strong currents, boat jetties with regular boat traffic, and water sports, so you can avoid those areas.

Should I wear a life jacket?

Child using inflatable ring

A life jacket isn’t a necessity as long as you are a confident swimmer. However, you might want to consider a life jacket or inflatable aid if you are not a strong swimmer or if you are unused to swimming for long periods of time. You may be out snorkelling for an hour of more!

It is advised that young children use a floating device, and they must be accompanied in the sea.

Life jackets are available to hire at the resort dive centres or you could use your own inflatable arm bands or noddle. If you or your child are unsure about snorkelling, then we recommend practicing in the swimming pool first or even the bathtub!

Should we swim in pairs in the ocean?

It’s always advisable to swim in pairs in the sea, even if you are a strong swimmer. Also, never swim, snorkel or scuba dive after drinking alcohol.

What age can children snorkel?

Child snorkelling

Although it is often advised to wait until a child is 5 or 6 to begin snorkelling, there is no official minimum age limit. If they have a well fitted mask and can comfortably breath through a snorkel, they can give it a go.

Flag warning system

Beach warning flag

Make yourself aware of general safety in the Maldives including the danger systems in place on the island. Many islands use standard beach warning flags to indicate swimming conditions so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with these and finding out where to look for them.

The flag colours worth remembering are:

  • Green = Safe to swim/Low hazard – calm conditions
  • Yellow = Caution/Medium Hazard – light surf or currents
  • Red = High hazard – Strong surf or currents, rough conditions
  • Double red flag = Dangerous conditions – DO NOT SWIM
  • Purple Flag = Marine pest present – DO NOT SWIM

Are there dangerous animals in the Indian Ocean?

It is largely seen as completely safe to swim in the Maldives but there are certain animals to be aware of.

The sharks of the Maldives are primarily non-aggressive and unless you hurt them, they won’t try to hurt you. There are no great white sharks in the Maldives, so don’t worry! They are largely filter feeders, feeding on small fish.

An important lesson to remember, and one to teach the children, is not to touch the coral. Did you know that coral is actually an animal, despite looking like a plant? Coral has a beautiful and soft surface but underneath it is rough and rock-like and can leave a nasty wound if trodden on. It is important to never touch the coral and to leave any washed-up coral on the beach. Some coral can also leave a rash if touched as it has the ability to sting.

While there are jellyfish, sea snakes and poisonous fish in the Indian Ocean, it is quite unlikely that you will encounter them swimming and snorkelling around the reef. If at any time you do, or you are worried, then simply swim away. As with most animals, they will not attack you unless you harm them.

Visit our Wildlife in the Maldives page for more information on specific wildlife, including sharks, jellyfish, and sea snakes along with images so you know what to look out for.

Strong currents

What is a backwash?

Waves on a beach

A backwash is the pulling feeling of the wave as it returns to the sea. This can be quite strong and knock people over, carrying them into deeper waters. It is advised to hold the hands of young children when paddling in the sea or jumping over waves.

What is a rip current?

Rip currents (sometimes incorrectly called riptides) are strong, powerful, narrow currents which can quickly pull you away from the shallow waters of the shoreline and out to much deeper waters.

How are rip currents created?

Rip currents tend to form between two different wave regions. When waves break on the sand they push the water towards the shore, increasing the water level. When there are different wave regions, one water level can be higher than the other and the higher water level will flow towards the lower water level. When the two currents converge, they flow offshore creating a rip current.

Are they always in the same spot?

A rip current can be anywhere that there are breaking waves. They can often recur in the same places; however, they can also appear and disappear suddenly at different locations along the beach.

How to spot a rip current?

Sand being disturbed by waves

Rip currents are not always easy to spot if you are at sea level, like in the Maldives. You may notice two different wave patterns breaking on the beach with a seemingly calmer area between them. This area between is a rip current. Another sign is a discolouration of the water where the sand is being disturbed. This might be an easier thing to spot while standing on the beach.

How do I know if I’m caught in a rip current?

It will feel like you are being pulled out to sea and perhaps like you are being pulled under water. If you are swimming back to the beach but getting further from the shoreline, then you are in a rip current.

Can a rip current pull me under water?

A rip current won’t pull you underwater, it will just pull you away from the shoreline. The current is typically stronger under the water, about a foot from the bottom, which can sometimes make it feel like the current is trying to pull you under as it’s difficult to stand.

What do I do if I’m caught in a rip current?

Don’t panic and don't try and swim against it back to shore. This will just tire you out and achieve very little. Relax and stay calm. As rip currents are often very narrow you want to swim parallel to the shoreline as this is the easiest and quickest way to exit the current. Once you are out of the rip current, follow the breaking waves back to the beach. Call and wave for help if needed.

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