Open Water Swim Buoy – Buyer’s Guide

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An open water swim buoy (or sea swimming float) is an excellent equipment that allows swimmers a way to ensure they stay safer while swimming in open water. They help with everything from providing a safety mechanism for floating when tired of carrying important things like water, snacks, keys, or your wallet.

Best Swim Buoy for Open Water

Swimmers of every level can benefit from the use of a swimming buoy. To help you out, we have reviewed five best open water swimming buoys and created a handy buyer’s guide to assist you in finding the best swim buoy.

Tow floats can be a terrific way for open water swimmers, snorkelers, or triathletes improve their visibility to boats and other individuals.

A swimming buoy also provides a way to carry personal belongings rather than leave them on the beach, in the car, or at home. This essential item also provides a way to take a break and rest during triathlons or while swimming or training by allowing its user to float and relax simply.

There are a vast array of swim bouy available on the market. With so many features and accessories, finding the perfect option can be overwhelming. This guide will explain the ins and outs of open water swimming float so that you can make an informed decision.

The Best Open Water Swim Buoys in 2024

1. Zone3 Swim Buoy and Dry Bag — Best for Serious Swimmers and Competitors

Zone3 Swim Buoy Review

The Zone3 is another wonderful option for swimmers. Our triathlon testers loved that it is available in bright orange or a neon pink hue.

It’s easy to inflate and use. While swimming, you can barely tell that the Zone3 is attached to it, making it great for serious competitors.

The Zone3 was crafted with triathletes and swimming competitors in mind.

The device features a dual bag design with inflation chambers that are located separately from the storage area. This increases the tow float’s buoyancy as opposed to traditional dry bags. It is fitted with an adjustable belt that attaches securely to your waist, without hindering performance. The 28-liter capacity bag leaves tons of space for essentials.

2. New Wave Swim Buoy— Best All-Around Option for Triathletes, Swimmers, and Snorkelers

New Wave Swim Bubble Review

The new wave is a perfect choice for athletes after an affordable yet durable safe swim bag option. It comes in several colors.

Each color is highly visible to other swimmers and boats as well. You can also choose to include a cell phone case that keeps your electronics dry. Our swim testers really liked the cell phone case and found that it did a great job of keeping their phones perfectly dry and safe.

The New Wave scored high marks with our swimmer testers thanks to its budget-friendly pricing and its brightly colored, highly visible exterior.

While the optional cell phone case does cost a few extra dollars, it’s a justified expenditure thanks to how well it works. While this option is smaller than others, it is an awesome choice for anyone that is watching their finances.

3. Speed Hound Swim Buoy — Best Budget Swim Bubble

Speed Hound Swim Buoy Review

The Speed Hound Swim Buoy was created by a triathlete who found other versions lacking the essential needs that many athletes look for.

It’s available in three highly visible color options including orange, yellow, and pink. This buoy will ensure you are safe and easily seen by boats and other swimmers. This bag is comprised of lightweight materials that will not needlessly tire you out during your swim.

The Speed Hound Swim Buoy also includes a dry bag and a cell phone case. This helpful feature makes it easy to bring along water and nutrients for longer swims. The cell phone bag keeps your smartphone dry, so you aren’t forced to leave it at home.

You’ll also be able to stow your wallet and other items as well. Our swimming testers loved the ease of inflation with this option. It is easy to wear while swimming and the adjustable strap is surprisingly comfortable.

4. Kiefer ISHOF Safe Swimmer Buoy — Best for Swimmers That Need to Tote a Lot of Gear With Them

Kiefer Sager Swimmer Swim Buoy Review

The Kiefer ISHOF Safe Swimmer Buoy offers visibility through its brightly designed orange exterior. It’s extremely lightweight and comfortable for novice or seasoned pro swimmers. Featuring an adjustable waist belt, its fast to put on and will not bother you during your swim.

The Kiefer ISHOF Safe Swimmer Buoy is fitted with a dry pouch located on the side of the buoy. This pouch is perfect for protecting small valuables like keys. You’ll also have access to a medium-sized and larger sized area for bigger items such as running shoes, towels, clothing, drinks, and snacks.

5. Xterra High-Vis Swim Buoy — Good Option for Experienced Swimmers That Don’t Need a Flotation Device

Xterra Swim Buoy Review

The Xterra is the first swim buoy featuring dual colors. The top is orange, while the bottom is a bright yellow shade. This adds to your visibility and increases your safety. It also comes with an adjustable one size fits all strap.

The Xterra inflates in seconds and is super lightweight so it won’t add extra weight to your swim. With the Xterra’s built-in dry pocket, you can safely stash away your keys, snacks, and wallet. On the downside, this option is not meant to be used as a flotation device. For this reason, our swim testers recommend it only for very advanced swimmers that are completely comfortable and experienced in open water swimming.


What does a swim buoy do?

Whether you know them as swim buoys, tow floats, safety buoys, or dry bags, these items have several important functions.

Swim buoy Open Water
Carrying important items

Tow floats are perfect for containing and protecting your personal belongings. They are an excellent option for point to point swimming, keeping valuables safe and with you as opposed to leaving them ashore, and keeping items dry while swimming. Most options consist of a roll top dry bag that is attached to a surf leash. This creates a lightweight way to keep your necessities close at hand.

Making swimmers more visible
Swim Buoy Bubble

Another terrific feature of a dry bag is the fact that it increases your visibility. This is the primary safety benefit of using a flotation buoy since it is much larger than your head.

The buoy is brightly colored and much easier to spot at a difference than a swim cap or an arm. By using one, you are creating a situation where another swimmer or a boat will be able to spot you from a greater distance, lowering the likelihood that you will be run over and injured or killed.

Creating an atmosphere for safer events

Open water swimming, snorkeling, and triathlons can be dangerous and even deadly sports. Many organizers of open water swimming competitions and activities require all swimmers to use a swim buoy as a safety precaution.

Open Water Swimming Buoy

The use of a tow float allows the individual a safe way to stay on top of the water instead of sinking. This is useful in situations where a swimmer has become exhausted or when conditions for swimming change such as during a storm. A swim buy can keep you afloat until help arrives.

Increasing swimmer confidence

The use of a open water buoy can add to your confidence when you are swimming in open water areas. In cold or choppy waters, this device allows you to have peace of mind. If there is any reason for you to become tired or need a break, you’ll have a flotation device right there to keep you safer. This may lead to increased confidence when navigating new areas or when competing in events or triathlons.

What Features Are Most Important When Selecting a Swim Buoy?

Several key features can aid you in deciding which tow float is your perfect match and which you should throw back out to sea.

Swim Safety Buoy
Color

With this particular product, color comes in to play in a much more crucial manner than just your personal style preferences. Select a flotation buoy that is brightly colored. They come in a large selection of technicolor rainbow hues. Aim for a model that is a neon or fluorescent shade for maximum visibility.

Dry storage capabilities

Depending on your gear, you may need a larger chambered choice. Triathletes need to tote water, nutrients, running shoes, and other essentials when they hot the open water. If you fit this bill, you’ll need to go with a large or multi dry chambered choice.

Swim buoy For Triathlete

Others who won’t be lugging around as much gear can select an item with a dry pouch or just one chamber.

Additionally, if you will be toting your smartphone along, you should find an option with a waterproof phone case included.

Even the highest quality swim buoys can sprout a leak, so keeping electronics like phones or battery-operated keys safe is extremely imperative.

Comfort

Staying as comfortable as possible is also a huge consideration. Many buoys are lighter than ever before and feature a waist strap to fasten it around your midsection. Find an item that has a comfortable strap that won’t burn or chafe your skin.

Tips for Open Water Swimming Safely

Swim Buoy Safety

In addition to purchasing and using a swim safety buoy anytime you tackle this type of swimming, there are other ways to keep yourself safe.

See also: Beginner’s Guide to Open Water Swimming: Tips and Gear to Swim Outside

Be prepared

Before you attempt to swim in a lake, pond, river, ocean, bay, or any open water, it’s important that you are comfortable and experienced. Spend some extra time in a pool to work on your skills. The first time you try swimming with a tow float, take it to a pool first.

Some users may feel a bit claustrophobic when first using these devices. It’s better to work the kinks and bugs out beforehand in a pool, rather than having a panic attack over it in the ocean or on the day of your competitive event.

Master the shallow

Stick to the shallower waters at first. Slowly acclimate yourself to the water conditions in the less deep parts of the water. Focus on your bilateral breathing in case there are waves crashing on one side or the sun is too bright on the other.

Swim parallel to the shore, sticking to a depth where you could still easily stand. That way, you can rest and take a break. If your swim buoy works as a flotation device, this is an opportune time to practice with it. It’s better to acclimate here, than in very deep water with lots of crashing waves.

Sighting

Sighting involves peeking your head out of the water. This process allows you to visualize where you are going and any objects or potential hazards in your way. From boats to docks to other swimmers, there are many dangers in the open water swimming. Pick a focal point to swim toward to keep yourself on course.

Wetsuits

If you are using a wetsuit, ensure that it’s properly fitted. Follow manufacturer sizing guides closely if you aren’t close enough for a fitting inside of a store. Your wetsuit should fit very snuggly, as the fit will loosen up when you are actually in the water.

Best Swim Buoy Review

Ease into the water by walking in up to knee level, then acclimate. Next walk in up to the level of your shoulders once again pausing to acclimate. Make sure that your adjustable strap is still comfortable so that your safety float doesn’t become a hindrance.

Distract Your Brain

Count while breathing out (“1, 2, 3”). Count your strokes. Count your left arm for 50 strokes, your right arm for 50 strokes, etc.

Focus on particular elements of your stroke you have been working on in the pool, e.g. hand entry, reach at the front, etc. Other tricks to distract your brain include building lists of your favorite songs, or places you want to visit. Just don’t lose total focus –make sure you are on course and on pace.

Swim Sensibly

Ease in to the swim, start steady and increase the pace as you settle in. Ignore everyone else and swim your own race.

Avoid the hustle and bustle of the pack. Start at the back or to the sides of the pack. It may cost you some time, but you will be swimming in calmer waters. Focus on your breathing, stroke and relaxing. The chaos and churn will die down as the swimmers spread out.

Watch where you’re going, sight regularly in order to travel in a straight line and keep the swim as short as possible!

Take advantage of your fellow swimmers. They are not all out to kick you! Follow their bubbles, they can help guide you. Swimming alongside others can give you the comfort of a group, and you can take advantage of drafting, making the swim a little easier.

More Practice

Just like on the bike, the more you practice open water swimming, the more comfortable you will become and the better you will swim. Do anything enough and it will become second nature! If you hate even the thought of open water swimming, then try and make it fun.

Go to the beach with your family and include a training swim. There are lots of drills to help you in the open water, e.g. water polo swimming for sighting.

There is a lot to think about, but nothing to fear. Focus and relax and all will go swimmingly!

Conclusion

The use of a swim buoy can be a game changer for many snorkelers, swimmers, and triathletes. They offer a lovely storage space for items like smartphones, keys, or running shoes. They offer a brilliant color shade that’s is sure to catch the eye of any boaters. This can be a lifesaving detail, since every year, swimmers are injured and killed by boats that never saw them coming.

Swim buoys are also a perfect way to be able to keep water and nutrients on board when competing in a triathlon or open water swimming event or practice session. Possibly the best feature lies in their ability to also work as a personal flotation device.

Countless swimmers are placed in danger when they become too exhausted to await rescue. Your tow float could easily be the difference between safely resting and waiting for help, and sinking or drowning. We hope you enjoyed our review and buyer’s guide to finding the best tow float for open water swimming. Don’t forget to leave us a comment below with your thought’s on swim buoys.

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Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Certified Coach. Since graduating college, Ryan has coached over sixty triathletes, runners, cyclists, and swimmers. He focuses on helping them select appropriate goals and guiding them towards achieving them.

15 thoughts on “Open Water Swim Buoy – Buyer’s Guide”

  1. thank you for the feature. Don’t forget to compare the 20 liter New Wave Swim Buoy, which has a buoyant force of 35 lbs, which is bigger than the SH and has the true fluorescent colors.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for your informative reviews. I purchased the Zone3 buoy based on your suggestions. It has been a perfect swim buoy for my swims (between 2-3 miles). I strongly recommend it (highly visible, easily rotates when changing strokes, and keeps things very dry). I appreciate all the thought you put into this.

    Reply
  3. How do you choose an open water swim buoy? Do you choose by swimmers weight?
    I figure a 20L but I am only going to have id, phone and car keys. I don’t want to tow a lot of weight. May also use it to take a break.
    I am considering the new wave 20L bright green. I think that’s the most visible.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      Swim buoys are not flotation devices. You choose one based upon what you need it for. For example, I have 2 swim buoys: one with a storage part when I am doing swims with no secure storage, and one without storage. You can also get one that holds a drink.
      The swimmers’ weight does not matter much if at all. Some of the pure swimmers are heavy and many of the marathon swimmers are heavy. My understanding is little accommodation is made for swimmers’ weight in the gear available.
      Most open water swimmers tend to use orange, but yellow and bright fluorescent green are also well visible.

      Reply
  4. I’m about to buy an inflatable swim buoy for open water swims. Do you feel the neon yellow vs neon orange is better/worse, or are they both pretty visible?

    Reply
    • Hi Lucy,
      Orange and red stand out much more effectively against the water than any other color. In certain light yellow and green pop well, in others they blend in.
      The biggest advantage to the bouy is it sitting up above the water, so anything is a step in the right direction!

      Reply
    • There is a reason why all lifeboats are orange or sometimes red since this colour has the best contrast in open water regardless of northern or southern shades of water. Yellow or Fluorescent Green is better than nothing, but nothing beats Bright Orange. Just google “lifeboat” and watch what colours are they. It will suddenly start making sense. Hope this helps with your choice.

      Reply
  5. I only need something to hold a small nitroglycerin spray bottle. Would it be something I could hold onto if needed or should I be looking to wear a vest? Any suggestions?

    Reply
  6. Sometimes swim buoys will attract boats and jet skis. They will try to zip around the buoy not realizing that it is attached to a human. If you hear a boat, stop swimming and watch the boat until it leaves the area. If it starts coming at you, detach the buoy and prepare to deep dive! I have 2 Safeswimmers which I do not recommend as they are single valves and prone to holes. One has 5 holes. I also have a MyFloat which is far superior and has 2 separate valves.

    Reply
  7. I swim in the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. In order to get out to where it is safe to swim, one has to dive under 2-4 foot waves until they’re beyond the surf. Can these swim buoys be inflated once out on the water? It would be easiest to swim out with it while deflated, then blow it up after one has made it through the impact zone where the waves are crashing. Can these be easily inflated while in the ocean??

    Reply
    • Swim buoys can definitely be inflated while in the ocean, but it will be more difficult as you will have to fight against the waves. After making it through the impact zone, simply inflate the buoy and start swimming!

      Reply
  8. Thanks for the review. It would be helpful if you identified which brands use TPU rather than the toxic PVC so we can make environmentally sound decisions. PVC should be banned.

    Reply
  9. Are there swimming belt for triathlon events for new swimmers ( for deep water )
    I.e life jacket that will allow you to swim in belt for ?

    Reply
    • In triathlon events, traditional swimming aids like life jackets are generally not allowed, as they can give an unfair advantage. However, for new swimmers looking for extra buoyancy during training or even on race day, I recommend using a buoyancy wetsuit or neoprene shorts. These options provide additional flotation and help improve body position in the water without compromising your swimming technique.

      Reply

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