The Golden Rules of Cold Water Swimming

Thanks the people who responded with their thoughts on this list, Finbarr, Lisa, Carl, Jack.

The post on the advice for Christmas and New Year swimmers, all the other posts on cold water, well, that’s a lot of information. Sometimes too much. So I though I’d try to come with a short list of essentials. Brevity is not my long-suit.


1: Swim in groups.

That’s rule number one. But you’re an adult so if you MUST swim alone, make sure someone knows where and when.

2: Plan your swim and your exit.

Most safety decisions (and consequently mistakes) are made outside the water. Decide your plan based on current water and air temperatures and conditions, not what it was three weeks ago. Then stick to your plan. If you can’t be sure of getting out safely, don’t get in.

3: Watch the time.

If hypothermia starts to take hold, knowing swim time, stroke rate and time to exit can be vital. I’ve previously said a watch is my number one item of safety equipment.

4: Stay warm as long as possible before you get in.

Once you are ready to swim, swim, instead of standing around talking.

5: Get dressed and re-warming as soon as possible afterwards.

Exercise is the best way to safely rewarm. Have your clothes ready for immediately after your swim. Do it before you go for your swim. Multiple light layers are better than one heavy layer. Showers and sudden heat are to be avoided.

6: Don’t swim if you have been ill, or drunk alcohol in the previous 24 hours.

Macho idiots don’t impress. Tiredness also affects your cold-withstanding ability.

7: Splash water on your face before full immersion.

Or walk slowly into the water. This gives you a few seconds to adjust your breathing to the cold, this makes a big difference to your first three minutes which are the toughest.

8: Don’t dive in.

Concussed macho idiots don’t impress me.

9: Wind is dangerous.

It strips away body heat rapidly, changes water conditions and currents, and almost all the rules.

10: You can’t out-think the Laws of thermodynamics. Given enough time cold will ALWAYS win.

Loneswimmer returns from the sea, with the commandments of cold water swimming

Loneswimmer returns from the sea, with the commandments of cold water swimming, (and a nasty rash on his shoulders from not shaving beforehand).


4 thoughts on “The Golden Rules of Cold Water Swimming

  1. Pingback: Swimming in Cold Water | Myrtleville Swimmers

  2. This isn’t really a reply – more of a question – I hope you don’t mind?
    I live in Derry and a few of us were considering going to Guildford to do the “2Swim4Life” event in April. When reading the website I noticed yourself and Lisa Cummins mentioned ‘doing something similar in Ireland’ – is there a similar event this year in Ireland?
    Thanks for the advice.
    John Coyle


    • Hi John

      Lisa & I did in Kilkenny in 2012. I couldn’t get pool time for it for last year, I will be trying there again for this year (it’s a low chlorine pool, ideal for long duration). Right now I don’t know.


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