• Technique

How to swim in a straight line: A basic guide to sighting

Do you struggle with swimming in a straight line? In this article, we cover what sighting is, sighting techniques and when you should sight.

Spring is officially upon us which means many seasonal ocean swimmers are swapping the heated pools for the calm of the open water.

With a few months out of the ocean, some of our skills can be a little rusty, including our sighting. But don’t worry you’re not alone, even the most experienced swimmers can get lazy with their techniques.

On the flip side, this might be the season you are getting into open water swimming for the first time. In that case, this article will help get you started with this essential skill.

In this article, we cover what sighting is, sighting techniques and when you should sight.

What is sighting?

Sighting is when you look up and forward during your stroke to identify your surroundings, know what direction you are going in and to identify any hazards that may be in front of you.

What is a ‘sighting’ technique?

Sighting is performed by lifting your head up and looking forward at the start of your breathing cycle (instead of breathing to the side), you then finish your breath to the side like normal.

Finishing off your sighting by breathing to the side does come with some benefits, including allowing you to feel more comfortable because you are closely matching your usual breathing technique, allowing you to not get out of your rhythm. This particular technique of sighting is also more efficient because you stay in the usual position of freestyle.

Once you become more comfortable and advanced at sighting you can start using the ‘polo’ sighting technique option which is when you lift your head up, looking forward at what’s in front of you before putting it straight back down into the water without finishing your breath on the side.

When performing either one of these sighting techniques, be sure to switch on your core, kick stronger and glide forward with your leading arm. This will help combat your lower body/legs sinking in the water which is our body’s natural tendency anytime we lift our head while swimming freestyle.

When to sight?

There are three main points during open water swimming when you should be sighting; during the wave zone, once out in the open water and on your way back to shore.

Swimming out through the wave zone is one of the most important times to sight as this helps you to be constantly aware of when the waves are coming towards you and when you might need to dive under the waves.

When you’re going through the wave zone, you should be sighting more often than when you are swimming out the back. We recommend sighting every breath to allow you time to assess and react to the waves that are coming towards you.

Secondly, you should sight frequently once you are past the wave zone and in open water, to ensure you are staying on course.

During this time you want to pick a landmark such as a cliff, building, tree or light pole (or swim buoy if racing) to sight every four to six strokes to ensure you are staying on course and swimming in the right direction.

If the swell is up, use it to your advantage and sight on the swell crests (the top of the swell or wave) to help you get up as high as possible and give you a better line of sight into the distance.

Finally, sighting while returning to shore is critical to make sure you end up at the same part of the beach you started at or you could end up with a fair walk up the beach to your gear.

When coming back to shore pick a landmark that you can line up over the sandbank and swim towards it, this helps you make sure you are swimming the shortest distance back into shore.

Some of our favourite landmarks to line up on our way back into shore are trees, lifeguard towers, tall buildings and even surf clubs (just don’t pick an umbrella!).

How to sight

In these videos by OceanFit (View free eCourses), learn how to sight by starting your practice in the pool and then moving into the open water.

More sighting drills to practise in the pool

The best way to get the hang of sighting and improve your sighting technique is to start in the pool in a controlled and flat environment before putting it to the test in the open ocean.

Here are two of our favourite sighting drills to practise in the pool.

1. Polo

Polo is a great drill to start doing once you have gotten the hang of normal sighting.

To swim polo, lift your head (and eyes) out of the water, facing forward. Keep your head as straight as possible while engaging your core and keeping your legs up on the surface of the water.

You can start by swimming ten strokes freestyle then adding in four strokes of polo, repeating for the duration of the lap.

Another way to master swimming polo and practise sighting is to do 8 x 50 metres where you swim 25 metres polo and 25 metres freestyle.

Mastering polo helps you to gain longer sights of your chosen sighting marker when swimming in the ocean.

2. Catch up

Catch-up is a great drill to practice when you are just getting the hang of sighting. It’ll help with your glide, allowing you to take an extended sight.

To perform catch-up, you want to swim freestyle but leave your leading arm out in front until your stroking arm catches up with it before starting your next stroke.

During catch-up, you want to stretch from your toes to your fingertips while keeping a long body.

Catch-up can help you sight for longer without getting out of your usual freestyle rhythm.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 10 October 2023
  • (Updated on 10 October 2023)

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