Beginners Guide: How to prepare for winter swimming

October 10, 2023
5 min read

At Divers Cove, we live and breathe and literally never stop talking about wild swimming and everything related to this amazing hobby.  But what happens when the water temperature drops as we head into our great British winter? Well, we certainly don't hang up our wetsuits and wait for spring!  We relish the opportunity to swim in the stunning winter environment here at the Cove. But it's not for everyone. Read on to discover exactly how to prepare for winter swimming - the right way.

Understanding Winter Swimming

Winter swimming, or cold water swimming, involves swimming in open water with temperatures below 16 degrees Celsius. In colder regions, such as the UK, water temperatures can drop to as low as 0 degrees Celsius. While it may seem daunting, many people find the experience incredibly invigorating and addictive.

Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

Cold water swimming offers a range of physical and mental health benefits. It can improve circulation, boost the immune system, and increase metabolism. Additionally, the release of endorphins during cold water swimming can elevate mood and reduce stress levels.

Safety Precautions

Before diving into cold water swimming, it's essential to understand the risks and take necessary precautions. Cold water shock, hypothermia, swim failure, and after-drop are real dangers that can be life-threatening. Always swim with a buddy, know your limits, and be aware of the signs of distress.

Preparation and Acclimatization

Proper preparation and acclimatisation are key to enjoying cold water swimming safely. Start by gradually exposing yourself to colder water temperatures, ideally starting in autumn and building up your tolerance over time. Educate yourself about the effects of cold water on the body and learn about cold water shock and hypothermia.

Choosing the Right Location

When selecting a location for winter swimming, consider factors such as water temperature, currents, and safety facilities. Look for manned venues that offer group swim sessions and have lifeguards on duty. If there are no manned venues nearby, join a local open water swim group or find experienced swimmers who can guide you in choosing suitable locations.

Essential Equipment for Winter Swimming

Having the right equipment is crucial for cold water swimming. Some essential items include a tow float for visibility and safety, a swimsuit or wetsuit depending on your preference, headgear to keep your head warm, neoprene gloves and boots to protect your extremities, goggles for better visibility, a waterproof watch to track your time, and a dry robe or changing robe for post-swim warmth.

Techniques and Tips for Cold Water Swimming

Cold water swimming requires specific techniques to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Start by entering the water slowly and controlling your breathing. Learn how to manage cold water shock and practise the "Float to Live" technique. Gradually increase your swim time and distance, always listening to your body and never pushing yourself beyond your limits.

Post-Swim Recovery

After your winter swim, it's essential to warm up properly to avoid the after-drop phenomenon. Remove wet layers as quickly as possible and dress in warm, loose layers. Use a dry robe to keep warm and protect yourself from the elements. Enjoy a hot drink and a post-swim snack to replenish your energy.

Winter Swimming Events and Communities

Winter Swimming has a vibrant community with various events and gatherings. Participating in these events can provide opportunities to meet like-minded swimmers, learn from experienced individuals, and share your passion for cold water swimming. Look for local winter swimming events and join online communities to connect with others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is winter swimming safe?

Proper preparation is essential. This includes getting your body used to cold water gradually, understanding the water temperature, and being in good physical health.

How long should I acclimatise before swimming in cold water?

The duration of acclimatisation before swimming in cold water can vary from person to person, as it depends on factors like your individual tolerance to cold, your previous exposure to cold water, and your overall physical health. However, it's generally recommended to acclimatise gradually over a period of several weeks to months if you plan to swim regularly in cold water. Here at Divers Cove, we advise our members to swim all year round, if they plan to swim in the winter months.

What should I wear for winter swimming?

When preparing to go winter swimming or cold water swimming, wearing the right gear is essential to keep yourself warm and safe in frigid water temperatures. Here are some recommendations for what to wear for winter swimming:

Wetsuit or Drysuit: These are the most crucial pieces of clothing for winter swimming. Choose between:

Wetsuit: A wetsuit is made of thick neoprene material that traps a thin layer of water between the suit and your body. Your body then warms this layer, providing insulation. Wetsuits are suitable for water temperatures above freezing but still cold.

Drysuit: A dry suit is designed to keep you completely dry and is a better option for very cold water. It consists of waterproof material and seals at the wrists and ankles to prevent water from entering. You wear insulating layers underneath the dry suit to stay warm.

Swim Cap: A neoprene swim cap can help retain heat and keep your head warm. It's also essential for reducing heat loss through your head, which is a common misconception.

Insulated Gloves and Socks: Neoprene gloves and socks designed for water sports can help keep your extremities warm. Cold hands and feet are a common issue in cold water.

Remember, always prioritise safety and consult with professionals if you have any concerns or medical conditions.

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