Ice Mile Dilemmas – VII – Failure To Apply Best Practice

Ice Mile Dilemmas – IV – Local context.

Ice Mile Dilemmas – V –  IISA Rules Discussion Part 1. – Something Terrible Is Going To Happen.

Ice Mile Dilemmas – VI – IISA Rules Discussion Part 2. – Safety and Experience.

This is the third and last part of discussion of the IISA rules.

Age Limit

I can’t let this rule (3.3.15) go without question. The minimum age limit for an Ice Mile attempt with parental consent is 16. The only thing I can say about this is that it is irresponsible madness. The only parents I can think competent to judge the difficulty of an Ice Mile attempt for a 16- or 17-year-old child are Ice Mile swimmers. They are the very ones who would almost certainly not consent to such. I have not heard from one single swimmer, doctor or Ice Miler who thinks this is a responsible rule. IISA, please remove this irresponsible rule immediately.

Best Practice

What we can see from the local organisation of Ice Mile swims in the UK, Ireland and the US is that local swimmers and organisers are implementing what each believe is Best Practice for Ice Mile swimming. As one Ice Mile and swimming organiser says: “We should be going above and beyond the IISA rule to make sure someone does not die from inexperience or neglect.Or another who says;the lack of oversight for these events is wholly irresponsible on the part of the IISA and is inviting disaster.

The IISA is the organisation which has promoted Ice Mile swimming worldwide. Currently, responsibility for safety falls more heavily on individual swim organisers rather than swimmers and allows the IISA to abdicate responsibility in ensuring responsible criteria, since as mentioned above that only those who succeed can actually become IISA members. A Channel Aspirant only becomes a Channel Swimmer if they succeed, but they must join the relevant association beforehand. The IISA procedure is hardly normal practice let alone Best Practice. In fact it seems more than just unusual. The current situation means the IISA doesn’t have to retain any data on attempts, success rate, safety data, incidents, accidents or even any possible tragedy.

I am counted as an Ice Mile swimmer though I took two attempts at the required temperature. But the IISA doesn’t measure success rates. This abdication is more than just an oversight. It’s a conscious decision and one that isn’t optimal for safety.

One of the most immediate ways to improve safety and to addresssome of the issues discussed here, would be to require IISA membership for all aspirants.

Given that the IISA promotes the Ice Mile, ignoring the wider aspects of experience, organisation, safety rules and lethal potential and only accepting membership from those who are successful is a significant failure.

Best Practice has been demonstrated by Fergal Somerville, Colin Hill, Greg  O’Connor and some others. They demonstrate that the IISA rules should be such that swimmers must provide a minimum standard of proven experience and competence in very cold open water and should be an IISA member before any Ice Mile attempt is made.

The rules about the organisation of events must be tighter, and the rules that are in place must be rigorous and consistent. As more people attempt an Ice Mile, more will want to try, and the overall experience level will decrease, and as seen above, there are indications this may already be happening.


Two of my correspondents disagree with me on this possible increase: One says “I actually have not seen a great rush to do this challenge from other swimmers, I think they realise the scale of the challenge, the obvious risks and the organisational effort to get it right. The other says “There are not many swimmers busting down the doors to do an ice swim.

I believe this is likely true right now. But that does not mean it will remain so, and the IISA itself wishes it to change. In the next article I’ll show something important that seems to confirm my fear. The increase may happen if the IISA promote their new 1K Ice Swim vigorously or if the push for Winter Olympics inclusion become more widespread. Horses and stables doors come to mind.

One correspondent goes on to say:Applying more stringent rules is not the answer, giving people best practice safety statements and swim plans so that they can learn from others would be a good idea. People have no excuses if they have been given examples of how it can be done safely. If they choose to ignore this then they will probably ignore more stringent rules too.

This shows that some of the suggestions I am proposing here may not be agreed. That’s fine. I want the best rules which enhance and aid safety, not my own rules. But I would also strongly advocate both better rules and Best Practice, which would be preferable to poor rules and lack of Best Practice utilisation.

Right now this debate is needed, and a public debate at that, not the behind-closed-doors previous practices of the IISA. The IISA could utilise the existing constitutional provision for a Member’s Meeting to draft better rules. I am arguing for open debate and to include the existing Ice Mile swimmers in the debate for better rules, better adherence to rules, and also Best Practices for qualification and swims. I am hoping others will join the discussion. But the previous quote, despite its disagreement with me on direction, also indicates an implicit similar concern about safety to every response I’ve received.

The extensive problems outlined in the rules, or the lack thereof, and the general agreement of almost all my respondents highlight that this review is necessary.


Ice Mile swimming is an extreme sport. As pointed out at the beginning of the article, extreme sports carry significant risk. I am not arguing against such pursuits. I am talking about vital issues intended to minimise the risk and improve safety for individual swimmers in a very marginal and dangerous pursuit.

One response that I’m putting here before I finish this series, is to categorically reject the only response I’ve seen from the IISA since I’ve initiated this discussion. The IISA have implied that I’ve personalised the discussion. Well, duh.

(Granted my name isn’t used, but since I restarted this series suddenly there’s a debate. Other Ice Milers have told me that is exactly what the IISA have said about this series. I’ve not had any direct response from the  IISA, who are always welcome to so do). Apparently without any irony, this is followed shortly thereafter by:

This series proves precisely that the IISA rules and guidelines are lacking, inadequate or even contradictory. As I write here,  I am aware of the many people, cold water and Ice Mile swimmers from whom I’ve heard, indicating support and agreement. Yet I haven’t received a single contradictory message. When the IISA (obliquely) dismisses me for getting personal, they are dismissing the concerns of many more people than just me.

I don’t know any of the IISA founders. The Irish Ice Mile ambassador whom I’ve mentioned (without naming) as indicative of many IISA flaws, has never featured previously on, and there is no record whatsoever of pursuing any personal agenda. To accuse me of a personal agenda is to avoid these other serious issues. (And as I’ve pointed out, the IISA has had more than a year to address that specific issue and failed to so do).

The IISA are using this accusation to divert this broader series on the IISA and Ice Mile swimming. To this diversionary accusation which avoids the very real dangers and risks being highlighted, I have only this to say:

Shame on you, IISA.

No sport can have a discussion of problems without exploring just how those problems can manifest in specific situations. UCI similarly used to dismiss discussions of Lance Armstrong and Hein Verbruggen. Any safety discussion now taking place is precisely because I and so many other Ice Mile and cold water swimmers are genuinely concerned, and if the IISA decide to ignore such a discussion that will be their burden and failure, not ours.

This consideration of the flaws of the existing IISA rules isn’t the entirety of this discussion. In the next and penultimate chapter I will discuss the very real dangers of Ice Mile swimming, which the IISA and others should be but aren’t talking about, and which illustrate just why better safety and rules are so critical.


4 thoughts on “Ice Mile Dilemmas – VII – Failure To Apply Best Practice

  1. Pingback: Ice Mile Dilemma – VIII – Safety Is Everything | LoneSwimmer

  2. Pingback: Ice Mile Dilemmas – VIII – The Dangers | LoneSwimmer

  3. Are you going to talk about the risks of training for an ice mile at some point? So for me, I didn’t get the temperatures for an ice mile last year, but I did a lot of swimming around 6 or 7 degrees, mostly over a km, some of which I came out of pretty cold. It was just me, or me and one friend. If I’d got 4.5 degrees, and arranged an ice mile attempt, I’d have had a safety team on hand, safety boat in the water and all that, a lot more cover than during all my training swims. I can’t see any way that the attempt would be massively more dangerous than the training that I was doing on the build up to it, yet all the safety focus is on the attempt itself.

    The IISA are doing some positive things – the rule change on ECGs is welcome I think, as I do think some people might have rushed their swims because their ECGs were about to run out, and they can cost a fair bit to get done over here..


    • Thanks for your comments Joe.

      I have thought about the training dilemma, and its also been raised with me discussions. Yes, there is obviously risk there. I swim by myself as I have no-one to swim with (hence the site title). As a consequence I have always been very careful in assessing the conditions versus my knowledge and experience and many times I’ve abandoned a swim if I’ve felt it appropriate (the last time being four days ago).

      The challenges and risk of training in very cold water in winter as as well known to you and certainly feeds into my overall concerns. You are also entirely correct that the training can be just as potentially dangerous. But all I can do about that is what I’ve always done, which is to continue to write in a way that hopefully will help people.

      I certainly don’t hold the IISA responsible for anyone’s individual training. But the Ice Mile events themselves are geared toward IISA membership, and so I find the lack of, conflicting and poor procedures about the running of the events themselves very troubling. I believe that the IISA needs far more comprehensive messages around the dangers and risks. If the clarification of the risks is strong enough to educate people about the seriousness of the pursuit, this should inform help inform wider training regimes also. At the very least the IISA will be able to honestly say they have done what they can. Right now that is certainly not the case, as if some of us can see and outline the problems, then the IISA, which has existed for five years, has both the experience and manpower to so do also.

      Since you mention it, I’m curious about your thoughts on the ECG & medical. They are expensive here also, as I know because I’ve had to get at least one each year for the past few years for swimming, whether IISA or otherwise.

      What do you think of the fact that even though the medical & ECG requirement is mentioned in the IISA constitution, no swimmer currently has to produce one or indeed any medical certification in the IISA application affidavit? Doesn’t that make the requirement and terms a nonsense? I’ve done a NIce mile, and two Ice Mile swims, one successful, one not. I wasn’t required to present any medical certification, so 4 weeks or 3 months doesn’t matter. (I submitted my ECG with GP’s initials anyway).


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