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Swimming on the Dart.

The River Dart and Dart Estuary is a truly stunning place to swim. The waters from Totnes, heading to downstream to Dartmouth have swooping bends, steep wooded banks, in peaceful surroundings. Further downriver, in the mouth of the estuary, there are gentle, sloped beaches, already labelled as designated bathing areas.

Dart Harbour understand the benefits that outdoor swimming brings, and instead of restricting or banning swimming, we try to follow a more pragmatic approach, such as providing recognised areas and information for all harbour users.


Whilst the Dart is a beautiful place to swim, it, like any other port or harbour has risks associated with being in or near the water. These risks can vary depending on the ability of the individual. If you have concerns about your ability, try to find a lifeguarded beach, outdoor swimming instructor or group prior to swimming on the Dart.

There is also a wealth of information available on the internet, the outdoor swimming society has plenty of info aimed at estuary swimming linked here.

Follow the below advice to keep you safe, whilst enjoying our harbour.

Planning your swim.

When planning a swim on the Dart, consider the below. It is always worth walking the route before hand, especially if planning a route that you have not swam before.

  • Swim with groups. We advise to swim with a group or others, they dont need to be swimming, they could be on a paddleboard or kayak etc.
  • Consider access and egress. Is the area you’re swimming accessible, slippery, private land? Or is it a fragile or sensitive habitat, such as saltmarsh? Is it solid ground or wet, deep mud?
  • Tides. Have you checked the tides? Not only can spring tides carry strong currents, it also can leave areas that had plenty of water on them earlier high and dry!
  • Weather / Waves. The upper reaches are less likely to have waves, but it only takes a slight breeze against the tide to create a chop big enough to hinder the ability to swim safely. Dont forget to factor in air temperature.
  • Water temperature. Whilst there are links to health benefits of cold water immersion, the water temperature on the Dart can vary hugely over the year. Temperatures range from the coldest days in the winter months sitting at 5-6°C up to over 18°C in the later summer months. Environmental conditions such as tides and rain can also affect the water temperature. The mouth of the river is less variable, as it is closer to the sea.
  • Exhaustion. Consider the distance when planning a swim. Distances always sound and look less on maps than in reality. On longer swims or distances that you may not be used to, factor in other exits on route.
  • Equipment. Some areas on the Dart, require you to have certain equipment, namely a tow float.
Do’s and Don’ts – For all.

Mariners are reminded that swimming is allowed on the Dart. You are required to keep a good look out at all times.  Swimmers use the river year round, but particularly in the summer months.

Swimmers are requested to avoid the main channel and busy mooring areas, and to follow the advice below.

  • Never dive or jump into water of an unknown depth.
  • Never swim near moving boats, boats running their engines or boats which may depart their moorings.
  • Never swim in strong currents and/or tides.
  • Never swim after consuming alcohol.
  • It is not advisable to swim alone.
  • Always swim within your limitations.
In an Emergency.

If you see somebody in difficulty in the water, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. They are likely to need:

  • Your location & and that of the person in distress.
  • The nature of the incident.
  • The number of people in distress.
Wildlife encounters.

With any seal or wildlife encounter it is important to stay calm, slowly back away, and avoid making any sudden movements that may cause the animal to be forced to flee suddenly. If you are swimming and you cannot get out of the water quickly then the best advice is to carry on as normal, allowing the animal to eventually lose interest and swim away.

Seals are typically nonaggressive animals, incredibly inquisitive and playful. Like dogs, they tend to investigate everything with their mouths, whiskers and front flippers. Due to this it is important never to hold your hand out to a seal, as they are easily spooked and could accidentally bite, graze or break your skin.

If a seal does start to show erratic agitated behaviour such as heavy splashing, fast diving, heavy breathing and snorting it is best to swim away slowly as it can mean that the seal has become over stimulated or agitated by the encounter with you.

Water Quality.

Please visit this page here for more info on water quality within the Dart.


Download our map & guide here