The term ‘water-resistant’ is seen as standard on most smartwatches today so what makes the difference with swimming watches? It’s a useful feature that protects the tech that lies within watches, but there’s actually more to this function than you might realise.
What does ‘waterproof’ actually mean?
No watch is 100% waterproof. There is a limit to the amount of water pressure any watch can handle and while the word might suggest that it won’t take in water under any circumstance, this isn’t the case. A water-resistant watch may simply resist a shower, or be suitable for deep diving – you need to know which before getting it wet.
If you’ve invested in an expensive multisport watch, for example, it’s important to get it tested annually. The rating only applies to it when you get it out of the box. Don’t expect it to offer the same thing five years later.
How is it measured?
Watches are rated by ATMs or atmospheres. 1ATM is about 10m.
Should I get a diving watch if I’m a swimmer?
Divers watches can stand very deep depths – up to 200m in some cases. They have few openings to limit vulnerability to water ingress. If your interests extend to scuba diving, surfing, boating or anything of that ilk, you’re advised to get a diving watch.
If you’re a triathlete, however, there are multisport watches that will suit you better, offering accurate performance data and fitness tracking.
Testing a watch for swimming
If the advert boasts that the watch is water-resistant to 30m it doesn’t mean you can dive 30m with it on, as many times as you like, and expect the watch to keep working. It’s the biggest misconception.
During testing, in a lab, the watch will undergo a pressure test that mimics water pressure, which is actually done under only 10cm of water, over the course of 60 minutes. The ATM measurement is given following this test.
The key thing to remember is that this test is done in still water. In real-life situations, water is not static. Imagine a wave coming at you, a hose being sprayed, or the impact of you diving into a pool; this will change the water pressure instantly.
Understanding the ratings
There is a range of classifications for watches that can be used in water – here’s a quick guide:
- If there’s nothing stated at all about water resistance, you shouldn’t get it wet at all.
- Water-resistant means you can splash it, but not submerge it.
- 30m – This can withstand rain and hand-washing type splashes but you shouldn’t wear it during lengthy swimming sessions or diving.
- 50m – Some swimming and water sports on the surface, rather than under it. Still not good for diving.
- 100m – Can be used underwater. Good for swimming and diving and most water sports.
- 200m – Pretty much anything except for really deep water dives.
What should I buy?
Swimming-dedicated trackers range from budget models ideal for casual swimmers who are interested in lap times, up to complex analytical data gathering multisport watches for triathletes. The right watch for you depends on exactly what you need from it.
Swimming trackers have been trending for a while now – no surprise considering the amount of complicated tech being packed into smartwatches. Even if a waterproof watch isn’t being used to monitor and analyse swimming data, the waterproofing will protect the expensive hardware in the case.
The choice isn’t plentiful, yet. A lot of fitness trackers will boast their waterproof features, but look carefully at the classification and understand what you can and cannot do with them. Realise too that an overall fitness tracker won’t provide extensive swim-specific data.
There are some great features to look out for, like automatic detection of your stroke, lap and distance tracking in the pool and GPS capability to monitor your open water sessions. If you can get hold of one with a heart rate monitor you’ll also know your calorie burn and efficiency. All these features offer insights that will help you to get the most out of your training.