We all know that wild swimming and sea swimming have become incredibly popular throughout the UK of late. Even in the summer months we have to take care of ourselves getting into the cool waters on our shores but as the temperatures drop it is vitally important than we understand the risks and how to mitigate them as we take to the waters in the rougher and colder months. We have compiled some top tips based on advice from the experts. If you are considering a dunk this winter please do your research and always follow guidance from organisations such as The RNLI and The Outdoor Swimming Society.
Check the Conditions
Before you even leave for the beach or your favourite spot to get into the sea make sure you have checked out all known risks i.e. reoccurring rip tides, danger zones at that spot, any warnings for the area. On top of that check any of the variables for the area such as weather conditions, we like to use the Met Office and also any possible issues with sewage outlets and water quality at Surfers Against Sewage. Be sensible – if the conditions look too rough, too cold or unsafe don’t make that trip today and wait for a better day to dip. Also sometimes we can do all our pre-checks and still feel the sea looks different or tricky etc. when we get there – if you are having any doubts the best rule is simply not to get in.
Never Go Alone
It is always best to have a swim buddy when heading into the sea, important in the summer months but essential in winter. Either a buddy system where you have a significant swim other that comes with you on every trip or there are now many, many groups you can join across the UK. We also always let someone know we are getting in so there is someone shore side that knew you were dipping that day.
Enter the Water Slowly
Coldwater shock is a very real condition and can lead to many serious conditions. We recommend getting into the water slowly. Resist the urge of jumping in and instead wade in slowly allowing your body start to adjust, splashing your face and upper body before immersing yourself slowly.
Know your Limits
We all have a sixth sense for what we can manage and also varied experience and skill levels with cold water and sea swimming. Stay within your own limits and never put yourself our of your comfort zone. Stay within a depth you feel comfortable in and also try to keep your swims under the 15 min mark to begin with. After we exit the water we can be subject to ‘afterdrop’: you leave the water feeling great, and then you start to get colder, later on, sometimes growing faint, shivering violently and feeling unwell. This happens as your body starts to regulate your temperature again and happens whens you’ve pushed your time limits in cold water so start off with short sharp dunks and observe how your body reacts.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Make sure you have all you need to get warm as soon as you are out the water. Whether that’s a thick dry robe, hot water bottles, lots woolly layers or socks get it all on as soon as you can once you’re out the water and don’t hand around too long in wet clothes. A warm shower as soon as you get out can actually be dangerous so warm up with layers and have a warm shower once you get home. We also highly recommend taking a flask of warm tea or hot choc with you as that will help get some warm into your core post dip.
Get the Right Kit
It takes a hardy and physically fit person to swim in a costume throughout the depths of winter; typically someone who swims year round so has become acclimatised to the temperatures. Many people swim with extra layers in addition through the winter to stave off conditions such as Reynaud’s disease. There are many winter aids available such as wetsuits, boots, hats and gloves. If you aren’t used to cold-water swimming we highly recommend looking into what your winter kit is.
ENJOY IT. Getting into cold water can be totally exhilarating as part of a daily routine OR during a trip to the seaside. Cols water swimming is proven to help battle depression and many other conditions. All that we ask is that you exercise a high level of risk assessment and caution when getting in – especially in the colder months.