Whether you are a regular swimmer or starting out for the very first time it is always important to think carefully about your own health and safety when swimming throughout the winter months.
As a regular and reasonably experienced all year round swimmer I still need the odd reminder to protect myself against the elements when taking my daily dip.
Swimming in the winter can be so much fun, with so much energy in the water it can feel incredible bobbing around in huge rolling waves with icy wind, sea foam and rain lashing at your skin!
But with passing winter storms there can be extremely powerful swells, unexpected waves and dangerous floating debris so it is important that you know the area well and that you refrain from taking risks when the weather has been particularly stormy.
As many of us know, cold water swimming offers so many proven benefits to our health but with plunging sea temperatures in the UK at this time of year (the lowest sea temperature we recorded was 2 degrees centigrade in February with a wind chill of minus 8 degrees centigrade) there can be a considerable risk to life if we fail to swim with a little care and caution.
To stay safe this winter and to continue having fun in the water take a look at my TEN TOP TIPS for winter swimming. :)
1. Don’t stay in too long!
If you do not swim regularly then it is vital to allow your body time to acclimatise and to get used to the shock of sudden immersion into cold water. Once the sea temperature drops below 10 degrees I often remind myself of my 10 for 10 rule! If you are not a regular cold water swimmer anything over 10 minutes in under 10 degree sea can present a very real risk to health. If you want to stay in longer it might be wise to ditch the costume and invest in a winter wetsuit.
2. Layer up!
It is so important to layer up when thinking about what to wear to your winter swim. A tight thermal top to trap the heat as close to your core as possible is a must! When I swim in the winter I wear a tight long sleeved thermal top with another one over the top of it, two pairs of soft thermal leggings, a hooded jumper and a waterproof coat. It is so important to get dressed quickly and to keep the heat in using lots of additional layers.
3. Think hands and feet!
Often in cold weather it is our hands and feet that suffer first. Once we reach December I tend to dig out my neoprene gloves and socks to protect my extremities in the water. It is also good to wear thick gloves and socks once you get out. You could also invest in a small rubber mat to stand on whilst you are getting changed to protect your feet from the cold - a cut up old yoga mat works wonders!
4. Get dry and dressed from top to bottom!
Your core holds all the heat so once you are out get dry as quickly as possible (out of the wind if you can) and dress your top half first to trap in the heat quickly. Legs and feet can wait until last!
5. You can leave your hat on!
Even though the myth of losing half our body heat through our heads has recently been debunked we still lose 7 to 10 percent of our body heat in this way. A common trick amongst my regular swimming friends is to keep your swimming hat on until you are dry and dressed and then you can replace it with a nice warm woolly hat.
6. Warm up from the inside out
In really cold weather it can be easier to get warm if you heat your body from the inside out - take a warm drink in a flask, either soup, tea, coffee or hot chocolate! At Christmas all of us Battery Rocks swimmers find that warm mulled wine works an absolute treat!
7. Keep your clothes dry
Often in the winter and especially in the UK we get a lot of rain! If it rains when you are swimming (I love swimming in the rain!) you will want to keep your clothes and towel dry for when you get out. Putting on wet clothes in the cold after swimming is a big no when it comes to staying well! An easy and cheap trick is to always bring a strong reusable bin bag. You can store quite a lot in it and it will keep everything dry whilst you are swimming - you can also use it to stand on when you get out (but please reuse it and don't allow it to make its way into the sea!)
8. Check the Tides
Until recently I didn't realise that at mid tide it can often be the most dangerous time to swim. Especially in the winter when the sea tends to be a little more fierce, everything seems to speed up a little - the waves come in thick and fast and you get powerful drags back out into the ocean. If it is too rough to stay safe we Battery Rocks swimmers reluctantly resort to the local harbour and we always check the weather forecast!
9. Watch and Wait
A mistake I often see many new (and old) swimmers make is that they turn up, they get changed and they walk straight towards the sea. Often at first glance you can think it looks safe to get in but if you wait a little longer you will notice that every 12 waves or so you get a couple of larger and more powerful waves. Being knocked off your feet or pushed against the rocks can be really painful and so it is important to know what you are getting yourself into before you decide to get in.
10. Swim with friends!
It is always best to swim with other people especially when the sea is rough - just in case something went wrong. If you don’t have a regular swimming friend then find out where other people swim locally and try to go at the same time as them. It is also a great way to make new friends and to stay safe in the sea. Often people that swim in the same place are more clued up on regular currents, tides and conditions so it can be really beneficial to branch out and speak to new swimming people!
And finally - There are always going to be risks when swimming in the sea, and more so in the winter when the weather is so unpredictable, but with colder temperatures, rougher seas and a constant threat of storms it can be the most exciting, adventurous and exhilarating time to swim!
When you swim right through the winter you can be safe in the knowledge that you have definitely earnt the summer!
HAPPY SAFE SWIMMING! :)