Swimming buoys – which one is best for me

Best swim buoy

Which swimming buoy should I choose when swimming in open water?

Swimming buoys are in my opinion one of the most valuable pieces of equipment for open water swimming. In this post, I will remind you why it is important to use one. I will explain the buoyancy factor of swimming buoys and tell you which color is the most visible on the water.

Then I will give you a list of all the different types and their specific features. For each type, there are pros and cons. Depending on the use you want to make of the buoy, this list should help you find the right swimming buoy for you.

We will go over some concerns you might have and finally, I will tell you which one I chose for myself and why.


Why use swimming buoys?

Main reason: safety

The most important reason we use swimming buoys is for our own safety. I’ve talked about this in my previous post, “Is Open Water Swimming dangerous?”. When we swim in open water, we are pretty vulnerable, we are just a little dot in the water. It is thus very important to be seen. We want to be seen by others: swimmers, paddlers, wind and kite surfers, and most importantly jet skis and boats.

If most people on the water will see and avoid us easily, it is not always the case. Even when we stay close to the shore, it can happen that boats pass by at a fast speed without even noticing us.

Be visible by my swim buddies

This reason is also for safety, but also to help stay in group. When we swim as a group, we want to stay together. Being visible by others makes it easier to see each other and look after one another.

It also makes it easier for navigation. When we swim, our vision is so close to the water that it makes it difficult to spot anything. Having a bright-colored safety buoy in front of us makes it easier to find and follow. Same thing if we’re trying to check on a swimmer behind us. Sometimes, by just looking over our shoulder, we are able to spot our buddy’s swimming buoy very quickly.

Safety buoy for open water swimming
The swim buoy makes it easy to be seen

Take items with you

Some swimming buoys models allow us to take small items with us. In those buoys, we can take our wallet and car keys inside a dry bag. On most models, there is enough room to also take a little snack and a small towel.

With those models, we aren’t able to access what’s inside the buoy while in the water, it would get in the bag. To every problem, there is a solution. Keep reading as I will give you the details of all the swimming buoys you can find and their specific features.

There is even a backpack that turns into a dry bag/buoy. Very handy if we need to hike a bit before getting in the water. Or if we decide to go for a longer swim and need to take food with us.

swim buoy
The Buddyswim buoy has storage - click to see product

Did you know about the buoyancy factor?

Not a lifejacket but a buoyancy aid

A swimming buoy is not a lifejacket and can not replace it. But it is a buoyancy aid as it can provide support for the swimmer who needs to rest. On some swimming buoys, the buoyancy factor is indicated in Newton. The higher the number, the more buoyancy it offers.

How buoyant is my swimming buoy?

I own the Open water swimming buoy OWS 100 from Decathlon, which has a buoyancy factor of 140N. This rating is used with personal flotation devices (PFDs) and gives an indication of how much weight it can hold on the water.

To learn more about the Newton in flotation devices, read those FAQ answered by crewsaver.com.

What is the best swimming buoy color?

The most visible colors to the eye on land are red, orange and yellow. What about on the water ? A 2010 study conducted by Mustang Survival reveals that fluorescent green is the most visible color on the water, followed by orange and red.

What are the different types of swimming buoys?

The simple safety buoy

The most basic tow float has the only purpose of being visible and is the minimum for safety. It is small and light and perfect if you don’t need to take anything with you.

Safety buoy
The Safer Swimmer is small and light - Click to see product

The swim buoy with storage

This safety buoy has the advantage of also being a bag. This is very handy if we don’t want to leave our valuables on the beach or in our car. They come in different sizes and the larger ones can hold our valuables, shoes, clothes, a small towel and a snack.

Be aware though that the dry bag isn’t waterproof. It is thus necessary to put the phone, car  keys and wallet in a separate waterproof pouch or case before putting them in the dry bag compartment.

Swim buoy with storage
The Huub is small size 16 liter buoy - click to see product
Buddy swim buoy
The Swimbuddy is bigger with 28 liter storage - click to see product
Safety buoy for open water swimming
New Wave has a 15 liter and a 20 liter size - click to see product

The swimming buoy with external pocket

As I mentioned before, the dry bag swimming buoy is very handy to take things with us on the swim. But we can’t really access what’s in the dry compartment while we are on the water.

If, like me, you like to be able to access your phone in a waterproof pouch at any time, the swimming buoy with an external pocket is a better choice. Just be aware that anything we put in the external pocket will be on the underside of the buoy, in the water. Indeed, with the weight, it is impossible to turn the buoy with the pocket on the upside. It thus creates a little drag, but it also keeps anything in the pocket cool.

The Orca has a hydration bladder pocket - click to see product
Open water swim buoy
The Decathlon has an outer net pocket - click to see product

The donut tow float

The donut swimming buoy allows us to access our belongings on the water. With its flat bottom and donut shape, the buoy stays up right. And we can access the dry bag from the top.

360 Swim buoy
The Grab bag donut 360swim buoy has a storage bag on the top - click to see product
Tow float
The H2O 360swim buoy holds a water bottle - click to see product

The backpack swimming buoy

I’m now living in Italy on the Adriatic coast. It takes me five minutes to walk to the beach from my place. But every time I want to go for a swim, I need to find a place where to leave my clothes and keys. With this type of swimming buoy, I can walk to the beach and put all my belongings inside the buoy and go for a swim without leaving anything behind.

There is even a solution if we need to hike a little before swimming and/or we want to spend the day out on the water and take lunch and enough water with us. In the spearfishing section of Decathlon, there is the Watertight surface marker buoy spearfishing backpack. This is a 40-liter watertight backpack we can walk with to the water’s edge and morph into a marker buoy.

Backpack swim buoy
The Buddyswim buoy has removable backpack straps - click to see product
surface marker buoy
The surface marker buoy from Decathlon is bigger with removable backpack straps - click to see product

The spearfishing buoy floats

As open water swimmers, we can also use a spearfishing board or buoy. Those products are also tow floats and meant to make us visible by others. 

The spearfishing board allows us to rest on it and take some items with us.

Instead of floating right above the swimmer’s legs like the swimming buoys, spearfishing tow floats have a longer cord attached to our waist. This allows the swimmer or spearfisher to freedive. This is great to be able to explore on the swim.

marker buoy
Seac spearfishing marker buoy - click to see product
Spearfishing board
Seac spearfishing board - click to see product

What is the dive flag for?

The spearfishing buoy floats also have a dive flag on them. The dive flag is also used by scuba divers to indicate that someone is underwater or near the surface. Boats are not allowed to come closer than 100 meters (300 feet) from a dive flag and have to reduce their speed.

Possible concerns

Will my swimming buoy slow me down?

The small and basic safety buoy probably won’t slow the swimmer down. The bigger and the heavier your buoy is, the most likely it will slow you down. But you have to remember that once your “heavy” buoy is in movement, it will be gliding on the water, and you will not feel it much if at all.

Will I feel it on my legs and will it change the way I swim?

That was one of my concerns before using my first swimming buoy. You do need to adjust the strap at first so that the buoy floats on top of the back of your upper legs. Once it is well adjusted, you will not feel it at all.

And because you do not feel it, it does not change your swimming position and the way you swim.

My personal choice and why

I have two swimming buoys, and they are both from Decathlon. 

The Decathlon Open Water Swimming buoy OWS 100

I first picked the OWS 100 because I could get my hands on it in the store and for its budget. Now that I own it and have used it for some time, I am very happy with the product and its quality. I like the external pocket where I always have my thermometer and where I can store my GoPro or my phone in a waterproof pouch. I like the ease of use. Easy to prepare before the swim, you only need to inflate it. After the swim, I just rinse, dry and store it away.

Open water swimming buoy
The Decathlon OWS 100 - click to see product

The Decathlon Open Water Swimming buoy OWS 500

I also bought the OWS 500. It is bigger and has more buoyancy. The reason I bought it is for the dry bag. Now I can go for a swim without leaving anything on the beach. It is also very easy to use. Just a bit trickier to prepare as you need to shut the dry bag first before you inflate it. Also, a bit trickier to properly dry afterwards. This is why when I don’t need to take everything with me, I prefer to use the OWS 100.

Dry bag swimming buoy
Decathlon OWS 500 - Click to see product

What do they have that other buoys don’t?

There is also a few things I like on the Decathlon buoys that I haven’t seen on other models.

First, they have two chambers to inflate. If one of them is damaged, the second one can still do the job. I also find that it protects my belongings in the dry bag as there is one air chamber on each side and my stuff don’t move around.

Second, they both have a whistle attached to the buoy in case I need to make my presence known with an audible signal.

Third, I know their buoyancy factor, and they are both very good. The smaller one is 140N and the bigger one is 200N.  I haven’t found anywhere any information on the buoyancy factor of other swimming buoys brands.

Those differences are all related to safety. If I am going to use a safety buoy, I might as well use a very good one.

Which open water swimming buoy is best for you?

The best swimming buoy for you will all depend on what you plan on doing with it. Do you plan to spend the day on the water? Do you need to hike to the point of water entry? Are you just going for a quick swim? 

They all give you the visibility and safety needed. Now it is up to you to choose the size and whether you want an external pocket or a dry bag or both.

Related articles

Swimming buoys are an important piece of equipment, but not the only one. The number one equipment any swimmer picks first is swimming goggles.

Also, go and check my post which lists the basics of open water swimming equipment as well as the one listing my favourite accessories for open water swimming.

I have also talked about all the potential dangers while open water swimming in a previous post.

Now go and pick the most suitable swimming buoy for you!

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  1. Hi!

    Thanks for this post about Nabaji OWS 100 & 500. I’ve just bought the 100. I’m a very amateur swimmer, so it will be more than enough for me. One thing I find strange is that the pouch/pocket is on the bottom side. Do you have any insights why that is? I can kind of “turn it around” to be on the top (not ideal, but works).

    Thank you, and all the best!


    1. Thanks for your comment Mate, the reason Decathlon put the pocket under is because of the weight of things you’re going to put in. It will turn around anyway. I have tried to strap my go pro to my buoy and it didn’t work for the same reason. The pocket underneath does create some friction but I find it quite useful. I have my thermometer and sometimes my go pro or my phone in a waterproof pouch inside the pocket because I like to take photos.
      All the best to you too,

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