I get asked various questions related to cold because I like to write about it. Those questions often inspire further writing ideas. One thing I realised was there was no good agreement on cold water.
A poll of open water swimmers by DNOWS gave the following results.
- Under 5ºC (41ºF) – 0%
- Under 10ºC (50ºF) – 7%
- Under 12.5°C (54.5°F) – 14%
- Under 15°C (59°F) – 20%
- Under 17.5°C (63.5°F) – 24%
- Under 20°C (68°F) – 15%
- Under 22.5°C (72.5°F) – 17%
I remember Finbarr Hedderman once saying to me that; “10ºC is the point at which you can start to do some proper distance”. But that’s when the temperature is going up in the late spring. What about when it is dropping in the autumn and winter?
I think it would be fair to say that many, if not most (but not all), of the (serious) Irish and British swimmers would fall into the 7% category, it’s getting cold under 10° C.
So here’s my purely personal swimmer’s temperature scale:
Over 18°C (65°F): This temperature is entirely theoretical and only happens on TV and in the movies. The only conclusion I can come to about the 32% who said this is cold are that they are someone’s imaginary friends. Or maybe foetuses.
16°C to 18°C (61 to 64°F): This is paradise. This is the temperature range at which Irish and British swimmers bring soap into the sea. The most common exclamation heard at this stage is “it’s a bath”!!! Sunburn is common. Swimmers float on their backs and laugh and play gaily like children. They wear shorts and t-shirts after finally emerging. They actually feel a bit guilty about swimming in such warm water. Possible exposures times are above 40 hours for us. It’s a pity we have to get out to sleep and eat.
14°C to 16°C (57° to 61°F): Aaahhh, summer. All is well with the world, the sea and the swimmers. Exposure times are at least 20 to 40 hours. Sandycove Swimmers will swim 6 hour to 16 hour qualification swims, some just for the hell of it and because others might be doing so. Lisa Cummins will see no need to get out of the water at all and will just sleep while floating, to get a head start on the next day’s training.
13°C (55° to 56°F): Grand. You can do a 6 hour swim, and have a bit of fun. Daily long distance training is fine. Barbecues in Sandycove. The first Irish teenagers start to appear.
11°C (51/52°F): Ah well (with a shrug). Distance training is well underway. Ned, Rob, Ciarán, Craig, Danny C., Imelda, Eddie, Jen Lane, Jen Hurley & myself, at the very least, have all recorded 6 hour qualification swims at this temperature. Lisa did 9 hours at this temperature. Swimmers chuckle and murmur quietly amongst themselves when they hear tourists running screaming in agony from the water, throwing children out of the way…
10°C (50°F): Usually known as “It’s Still Ok”. A key temperature. This is the one hour point, where one hour swims become a regular event when the temperature is rising. We start wearing hats after swims.
9°C (48/49°F): “A Bit Nippy”. No point trying to do more than an hour, it can be done, but you won’t gain much from it unless you are contemplating the Mouth of Hell swim. Christmas Day swim range. Someone might remember to bring a flask of tea. No milk for me, thanks.
7°C (44/45°F): “Cold”. Yes, it exists. It’s here. The front door to Cold-Town is 7.9°C.
6°C (42/43°F): “Damn, that hurts”. You baby. You went alll your lifebeing mostly unaware you had sinuses. This is the temperature at which you are diabused of that notion, as they tried to escape out the top of your head.
5°C (40/41°F): “Holy F*ck!“That’s a technical term. Swimmers like to remind people this is the same temperature as the inside of a quite cold domestic fridge. Don’t worry if you can’t remember actually swimming, getting out of the water or trying to talk. Memory loss is a fun game for all the family. This occurs usually around the middle to end of February.
Under 5°C (Under 40 °F). This is only for bragging rights.There are no adequate words for this. In fact speech is impossible. It’s completely acceptable to measure exposure times in multiples of half minutes and temperatures in one-tenths of a degree. This is hard-core. When you’ve done this, you can tell others to “Bite me, (’cause I won’t feel it)”. (
4.8°C 1.4°C is mine, Feb. 2013). Carl Reynolds starts to get a bit nervous. Lisa make sure her suntan lotion is packed.
2.5°C to 5°C. South London Swimming Club and British Cold Water Swimming Championships live here. If you are enjoying this, please seek immediate psychological help. Lisa might zip up her hoodie.
1.5°C to 2.5°C: Lynn Coxian temperatures. You are officially a loon.
0°C to 1.5°C: Aka “Lewis Pughian” temperatures. Long duration nerve damage, probably death for the rest of us. Lisa considers putting on shoes instead of sandals. But probably she won’t.
*Grand is a purely Irish use that ranges from; “don’t mind me, I’ll be over here slowly bleeding to death, don’t put yourself out … Son“, to “ok” and “the best“, indicated entirely by context and tone.
- Cold water immersion and cold-shock, the first three minutes (loneswimmer.com)
- Extreme Cold Adaptation in Humans (loneswimmer.com)
- What temperature of water is too cold to swim in (redux)? (loneswimmer.com)
- Is the water too cold to swim? (loneswimmer.com)
- Lough Dan Ice Mile Swim Attempt (loneswimmer.com)
- The Golden Rules of Cold Water Swimming (loneswimmer.com)