Floating is one of the most basic foundation skills involved with swimming. Being able to maintain a buoyant position on the water surface with little effort is useful for survival and also to make swim strokes more efficient. Swim strokes should be focused on driving the swimmer forward through the water, not keeping the swimmer afloat.

Skills that help to improve Floating:

Development of Floating from Beginner to Advanced:


Overcoming our natural fear of water is the first step to gaining the trust we need to lay horizontal in the water. Trusting that the water will hold us up and relaxing is key to floating well. For beginners, using floats or buoyancy aids can help the swimmer to feel what it is like to tip forward or backward in the water, take the feet off the floor and find a horizontal position, without worrying about sinking. Using a buddy can help a swimmer get into a horizontal position, before the buddy lets go and the swimmer floats independently. Floating on the front is near to impossible unless the swimmer puts their face in the water, so being comfortable with the face in is essential. A star float is a good shape for beginners because the arms and legs out wide provide stability.


When a swimmer is comfortable floating on the front and/or back in a basic star shape, they can experiment with floating in a pencil shape, which is less stable but is good for forming a streamlined shape ready for swimming. They can also try a tucked float (sometimes called a mushroom float) which is floating face down whilst the knees are tucked up close to the chest. This requires more confidence as a tucked float bobs and wobbles around, which can make nervous swimmers feel unsettled. A tucked float is a good foundation skill for rotations. Improver swimmers can aim to make neat, confident-looking float shapes and move from one shape to another seamlessly. This demonstrates control in the water and starts to build an awareness of shapes that are useful for future jumping and diving activities.


At an advanced level, swimmers can practice floating whilst wearing clothes, which is a useful survival skill, but this should be done under the supervision of a qualified teacher or coach or as part of an organised lifesaving class.

Skill-specific Hazards for Floating:

Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Floating has its own specific risks:

  • Nervous swimmers may not be able to stand up after floating. A supervising adult should assist until they can safely right themselves after floating on the back and front.
  • When floating on the back, a swimmer can easily drift away from their starting point, moving into deep or dangerous waters.
  • When supervising children who are learning to float, it is not always easy to tell if a child is unable to stand up by themselves. They may find themselves floating face-down for too long before an adult realises that they need help and as a result may inhale water.
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