Is the water too cold to swim?

This article is, once again, a variation of the most popular question here: “What temperature of water is too cold to swim in”?, which I’ve written about before.


Image by Ben+Sam via Flickr

The temperature at the Guillamene last Sunday week (October 16th, 2011) was about 13° Celsius (55° F). That’s far warmer than what most people will imagine, not far off the highest normal summer water temperature (about 15° to 16°, excluding unusual warmer pockets or days) for Ireland’s South Coast. And by the end of last week it was down to about 11.5° Celsius.

The weather is changing though, autumn and early winter storms have shown up and the water is rough most days. There’s been fog that has lasted for days,and the days of grey skies and continuous rain. Days and nights are cooler (though given the crap summer, again, in Ireland, that’s not much of a real change, only about 4° to 6° Celsius change for now.) Surely, many people will say, the water is cold!

Annual mean sea surface temperature from the W...

Image via Wikipedia

Occasional swimmers have changed to wetsuits weeks back. But experienced swimmers are still, should they desire, putting in two or three hours without wetsuits, (if they haven’t gone back to pool training or like me, have slackened off for the end of season).

So this is a critical time for those considering a big swim for next year, or wanting to improve their open water ability. Time when you should be asking yourself:

How much more do I really want to able to do?

You can stop now, leave the sea, and just do pool training. or you can retain your sea swimming. You can use a wetsuit, and get used to the sea in winter. Or you can stay in skin, and discover that for maybe another three or four weeks, it’s not that cold.

You can approach this as a multi-year project, this winter just keeping swimming regularly in rubber, maybe dumping the neoprene for a few minutes of skin only here and there, and then next year going a bit further before donning it. The only mistake is to expect to be able to handle cold without doing any work.

An important thing to remember now is Rate of Change, rather than deciding what temperature is your cutoff (because without experience you won;t know anyway). The water temperature will drop soon, (I’ll let you know when The Big Drop happens, it could be as soon as three weeks or could be as long as six or seven). The Big Drop is when the water temperature goes below ten degrees Celsius 9 50° Fahrenheit). Yes, yes … don’t tell you can even get that low, I can hear you from here.

Last year the coldest day was late November, after the coldest spell Ireland had in something like 60 years. And it recovered afterwards. By Christmas the temperature was back to normal for that time of year, at about nine degrees (48° F.).

So now is the time and chance to do address two big issues:

1: Your perception of the world around you, especially the sea.

2: Your perception of yourself, and your limits and capabilities.

I know what some of you are thinking: but this guys is already experienced at cold, and I couldn’t do it. Nonsense. Anyone can, as I keep repeating, you just have to decide whether you want to or not.

There’s already lots of writing about cold on this site, see the top menu bar up there? ^^^

Go beyond your limits. Go on. Do it. I’ll meet you at the Guillamene.

P.S. As I was wondering what images to add to this, I really wished I had one of a swimmer with a meat thermometer stuck in them. But, apart from the pictures of Gábor, this is a Safe For Work site.


4 thoughts on “Is the water too cold to swim?

  1. Can anyone do it? Well, I think it’s easier for some than others. People’s constitution is different, both mentally and physically – for one example see
    I love to swim – I have no accolades whatsoever ( I was classed as a non-swimmer at school and kept at the shallow end!) except I did swim the length (2mile) of Llyn Padarn once in a race in 2005. I was beaten by several 13 year olds of all shapes and sizes.
    Before pregnancy I would tolerate any temperature for a (very) quick (though infrequent) dip. But after my daughter was born, it took several years to regain some of my happy go lucky ways.
    I used to get chilblains on my feet and fingers that would not move to play the piano in the winters as a child (parents on post war heating rations in the 70s and 80s). Now I wear a popular make of thermal swim socks but struggle to warm my hands and feet after a swim when my companions seem to have no such trouble!
    I am a novice at the sub 10 (in Welsh Snowdonia ‘s lakes and rivers), having only started in Sept and missed the last sub 5C three weeks!, so tomorrow’s dip will be bracing!
    Certainly, with each descending degree under 10C there must some exponential effect, hoping to feel the positive ones!


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  4. I completely agree, the wind chill factor has a lot to do with not being comfortable, but you’d be very surprised at the water temps. Once you’re in and off it’s not so bad. Just always be aware of your bodys reactions and exit the water if you’re not happy – don’t push it, othewise you are putting yourself and others in danger.


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