Cold water swimming and alcohol don’t mix

A couple of days ago I noticed some incoming traffic from a discussion thread on

Swimmers there planning a pre-New Year’s swim mentioned drinking whiskey and swimming afterwards. I though they were saying they’d consider it. In the same thread they mentioned my post on advice for a Christmas and New Year’s swim.

I was annoyed by such stupidity. It turned out to be a misunderstanding. One of the posters contacted me to explain they also were neither condoning drinking alcohol nor irresponsible behaviour and were planning significant safety measures. Thanks to Paul for explaining.

This time of year remains a good time to repeat this reminder (along with the rare sunny summer holiday weekend).

I’ve probably swum skin longer, in colder water, than most people. I have repeatedly explained the physiology of cold water swimming. I didn’t write about not swimming after alcohol to fill space.

No whiskeyI have never, EVER swum after taking alcohol, not even once, nor has any other Channel swimmer that I know done so, (& I know a lot), and to do so is stupidity, not courage, and usually leads to someone more experienced taking responsibility for the person that does it.

I’m not generally about telling people not to do things, but in the case of mixing alcohol and swimming, think about the other people put at risk by doing so.

You can run across a road without looking and with your eyes closed and get across, but it doesn’t mean you’d do it every time. Most smart people would never do it.

And just because you’ve done it previously and been fine is not a meaningfull argument. If you do it, you also tarnish all responsible swimmers, because when the media covers your death, they won’t follow-up with the inquest results which will outline your stupidity as the cause.

Alcohol and water might mix, but alcohol and swimming never mix.


7 thoughts on “Cold water swimming and alcohol don’t mix

  1. If you drink and drive your a bloody idiot. If you drink and swim your a bloody idiot. If you drink and supervise children at the pool or the beach your a bloody idiot. But what about the next day? That is assuming that you had a few pints four or five the night before? Driving yeah sure thats the big one everyone who is personally resonsible will reach a point where they dertimine if they are okay or not to drive the next day. The supervising of children at the pool or beach the next day Im sure it happens all the time. Swimming the next day yes at some point will likely happen.

    ‘An average of 140 people drown in Ireland every year, with alcohol consumption a contributory factor in several cases.’ How many were genuine accidents, and suicide involving aclohol as opposed to people having a few drinks and then going for a swim I’m not sure. What is clear though is that common sense seems to prevail when it comes to drinking and swimming. But the next day is a real danger and why Im bothering to post this. Dangerous becuase you can easily fall into the trap of thinking your okay.

    Given that males aged between 25 and 34 are the most likely to be involved in drowning then its probably safe to assume that the few cases involving alcohol will also be within this age group. Machismo and bravado in the mountains or at sea can be a scary thing to observe. Its uncomfortable to watch because it greatly increases the risk of injury or death and unnecessary intervention because some bloody idiot or group are showing off. I doubt that the bravodo macho types would be even reading a blog like this by their very nature. Which leaves the rest of us.

    Being a typical Australian I’m at home around water. Generally the deep end of a pool here is not far from the shallow end of a pool in Australia. Something that I have done in the past on more than one occasion is to cure a hangover with a surf session. I’m not sure what you think about this Donal? I know there are good arguments against but the fact remains that a culture exists where its acceptable. It pops up in surfing mags from time to time and even I believe in mens health magazine. I would hazard a guess that those doing so are personally responsible and know there limits. I’d also imagine based on what would be my own judgement for doing this that their hangovers are mild and that they are exercising common sense. But herein lies a trap. The trap of associating something thats familiar and then assuming it can be applied elsewhere.

    I have swum the next day only once after consuming alcohol the night before which would have been 3 pints and a shot of palinka. I posted about it on here a while back and I’m sure it was frowned upon and in a way rightly so. There was a moment in that short swim where I felt very uncomfortable and remember cursing something to myself. Before the swim I had told my swim buddy to just take it easy stay close to the exit point because of the few drinks the night before. So my buddy was on a higher state of alert for my safety constantly checking that I was okay and when I said that I wasn’t swam with me to the exit point. Nobody drowned nobody panicked nobody had to be rescued. I’d have been much better off doing everything the same and limitng my watertime to a quick immersion in and out in under 5 mins within reach of the exit point essentially not swimming. Instead I got to experience the effects of alcohol on my body in a situation that I felt relatively safe in. It wasn’t a bad experience just uncomforatble and I was very aware that if something in that ocean environment were to change I could be in real trouble.

    The mistake I had made wasn’t a blind one it was that I was COMFORTABLE. Aware that I wouldn’t be doing a big swim just a short swim and I had cured a hangover before this way excpet I hadn’t really (association trap). And (I didnt actually have a hangover) but I was aware that I’d had a few drinks the night before and so exercised a great amount of caution. Also it hadn’t been a late night my last drink was at around 11pm I’d slept late the following morning and went for this swim at 3 in the afternoon. ***NEVER THINK YOU ARE SAFE TO SWIM THE FOLLOWING DAY*** (something which I think is never given enough emphasis) Id never drink and swim for example but I felt relatively safe to do so the following afternoon. All though it’s the same medium you cannot transfer the surf session hangover cure to the realm of TheLoneSwimmer. Surfing with a warm buoyant wetsuit and a surf board slipping through the waves with little effort and a fair bit of the work taken out of it is one thing. But swimming in skin in cold water with nothing more than a pair of budgy smugglers at best is already one heavily loaded system and extremely sensitive compared with surfing or driving your car. The last thing that kind of system needs is something to overload it such as alcohol. Hopefully my experience if nothing else highlights the DANGEROUS NEXT DAY scenario where people might be off guard and caught unaware about the effects of alcohol and swimming.

    Happy New Year!


    • Fantastic comment Sam, thanks very much for the detailed reply. I can admit to curing a hangover with a swim, I think most of us have. I swam in Dover once after the annual Channel dinner, water of about 7C, the rest of the guys were still dying and wouldn’t try it, & I felt fine afterwards. I kept it to about 10 minutes though & entertained a bus of Japanese tourists. But I wouldn’t consider going long in such circumstances.

      I think though we can say there’s a huge difference,a s you note, between experienced cold water swimmers like us doing, and someone with no idea doing it. The Guillamenes on Christmas morning makes me a bit nervous for that reason. We can’t stop people, we can’t even advise them not to stop, because there are too many, actually we can’t reach them individually and we no power to so do. If we were to try to turn them away from the Guillamene, they’ll go elsewhere. At least at the Guillamenes we have the RNLI on duty and plenty of the more experienced swimmers around that day.

      We must arrange a swim together soon! Happy New Year!


  2. Hi,

    I’m the chap who made the comment on Boards, (and who is organizing the aforementioned Xmas swim). First off, apologies if you feel my linking your article is in some way condoning reckless behaviour, I think there are crossed wires- nobody will be mixing alcohol and swimming. I linked to spread the very good sense in what you had to say about cold water swimming. We (a group of Triathletes) will be undertaking a coldwater mountain lake swim in December- nobody will be drinking whiskey (or any other alcohol) beforehand! I’m all too aware of how stupid behaviour can impact on emergency services, so we will have wetsuits, buoyancy aids, first aid, and emergency plans, available should they be needed. The point in my linking your article was to highlight the good sense contained within it.

    My comment about previous Xmas dips in Cavan lakes was to show the folly of such stupidity (hence the “roll-eyes” emoticon), although any “swimming” I would have done then was limited to a quick immersion and out again. Rest assured, I’m all for letting the individual do whatever the hell they want, but once you start organizing something for more than just yourself, the onus is on you to make sure they are prepared, and the emergency services are untroubled. I’ve gone to a fair bit of effort to make sure everyone gets up there safely, swims safely, and gets back safely. The mountains are the last place to engage in reckless behaviour. The emphasis will be on fun, freedom, and enjoyment, but all the while being responsible and remaining safe. We will be long dried and warm again by the pub fire before any alcohol is taken.

    All the best, and apologies again for any misunderstanding,


    (Link to article


    • Hey Paul,

      Thanks for clarifying and apologies back at you so. I genuinely did read it as having a shot before a swim. I’ll edit my post to clarify the misunderstanding but I’ll leave the article itself as I feel there’s no better time for it anyway,as the point was in my queue to be made again. We have a problem with it on summer bank-holiday weekends occasionally with some of the younger immigrants also. Thanks again and have a good holiday & best wishes for the new year and happy swimming, if you are down the Copper Coast way any time, drop me a line and we’ll head out for a swim, if you like.



      • Cheers Donal, if a misunderstanding leads to a very good article on swim safety being emphasised, no harm done. I’ve followed your blog with huge interest for a while now, so will definitely give you a shout some time if I’m down your way for a swim, thanks for that (likewise if you fancy a bit of mountain running before a swim on the 29th, you’re more than welcome along). All the best for Xmas and the New Year,



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