How To: Advice for Christmas or New Year swimming in cold water for beginner or casual open water swimmers – What Would Santa Do?

The weather forecast for 2016 Christmas Day on Ireland’s south coast is not good for casual Christmas swimmers. Storm Barbara will peak on Friday but on Christmas Day will still unveil west-south-west winds of 35 knots (40 miles p.h, 65 kilometers per hour). Most organised swims will be unlikely to go ahead.

Wind direction will be better for Ireland’s east coast being directly offshore, but with stronger winds. Winds will be even stronger and more unsuitable for Ireland’s west coast.

Winds in the UK will approximate the same directions but slightly lessened speeds.

Swimmers in Aquatic Park in San Francisco will have their usual warm winter water, and mild weather in their big wind-proof outdoor pool, with post swim saunas, and they will convince themselves they are hardcore. I heard they get turkey delivered to the SERC and Dolphin clubhouses.The big sissies.

Please check if your local swim will go ahead or be postponed. If postponed, listen to the experts, and if you see someone like swimming, shake your head about the idiot, but don’t follow them in (because I’ve been doing this solo for a long time, and I really know how to evaluate risk).

List of Ireland’s 2016 Christmas swims (Irish Times).

UK Festive swims calendar 2016, (Outdoor swimming society).

I will be swimming, even if again it’s just me and hopefully Sam.

Finally, for those of reading this for the first time, and think I am over-egging the pudding,  please think about the two guys who swam AT MY LOCAL SPOT last Christmas…while I was there, just because they saw me in the water. And which led to the dramatic and almost fatal events that transpired, if it hadn’t have been for the aforementioned Sam.

By the way, I heard Santa doesn’t bring presents to wetsuit swimmers. ‘Cause you just know Santa swims skin.

PREPARE and OBSERVE

  • If swimming by yourself, make sure you inform someone where and when and preferably have an observer.
  • Preferably stick to organised swims.
  • Your most important pre-swim action to make sure you know where to exit the water safely.
  • Watch the water before you get in.
  • If you have been drinking alcohol the night before, please don’t swim.
  • If you are planning more than one or two minute dip, then bring plenty of warm clothes for afterwards.

BEFORE THE SWIM

  • Put some money in the charity collection.
  • Do NOT stand around talking once you are changed into your swimsuit.
  • It’s NORMAL to be NERVOUS of Cold Water.
  • Wear sandals as close to the water’s edge as possible.
  • DO NOT DIVE IN.
  • SPLASH WATER on your face before immersion.

DURING THE SWIM

  • Stay Calm.
  • DO NOT STOP SWIMMING IN THE WATER.
  • Have a great time.

EXITING THE WATER

  • Watch your exit. Be careful.
  • Get your footwear on immediately and get to your clothes and get dressed immediately.

AFTER THE SWIM

  • AFTER-DROP is dangerous so get dressed immediately, even if you feel warm.
  • Do not vigorously towel yourself dry, dry normally.
  • FEEL GREAT, job well done!

In as much as a blog can have a tradition, (editing and) posting this Christmas and New Year holiday swimming advice is a LoneSwimmer.com’s tradition.

With Christmas coming, many people who would never consider getting in cold water will be thinking of a Christmas or New Year’s Day dip.

If you are wondering WHY you might or should do it, apart from; taking part in a local tradition in many places; having a hot punch or soup at the coast; supporting a local charity; the great craic of meeting lots of people having similar fun; and doing something that will add more zest and flavour to your Christmas dinner than anything else, then read this for an explanation of why cold water swimming is so fantastic..

The experienced cold water swimmers amongst you will not need any of this information. Those of you in the Southern Hemisphere who are enduring hot weather and warm water have my condolences.

For the really inexperienced who don’t want to read a lot of information or who just want to quickly skim, the most important points are in bold and blue. (I’ve also collected just these points above for brevity and simplicity).

Guillamenes Christmas swim 2007

 

Detailed Explanation

PREPARE and OBSERVE

  • If swimming by yourself, make sure you inform someone where and when and preferably have an observer.
  • Your most important pre-swim action to make sure you know where to exit the water safely. Do not rely on the wisdom of crowds. Check for yourself. Many of the people near you will know nothing and some will be acting macho.
  • Watch the water before you get in. Regardless of the amount of people in it, if the water is breaking or surging more than about a metre, on steps, rocks or a ladder, the exit will be difficult, dangerous or even impossible.
  • If you have been drinking alcohol the night before, please don’t swim. Alcohol seriously impairs the body’s ability to deal with cold. Bravado has no place around cold water swimming when you don’t know what you are doing.
  • If you are planning more than one or two-minute dip, then bring plenty of warm clothes for afterwards. Including a hat and gloves. For warm clothes, multiple light layers rather than a few heavy ones.
  • Bring sandals or deck shoes. Extreme winter swimmer Jack Bright points these are nearly as important as the towel.
  • Consider putting your swimsuit on *before* you go to the sea. You will spend less time getting cold before you swim and if it’s a busy location, it’ll be far easier.
  • Bring a swim cap (silicone or neoprene preferably). If you only have latex, wear a couple of caps; also bring a towel and goggles.
  • Bring something on which to stand on while changing. A spare towel, a piece of cardboard, a car mat.
  • Forget grease. It does nothing for cold protection and you won’t in long enough to worry about chafing. If you are in long enough to need lubrication, you need none of my advice.
  • Neoprene (wetsuit) gloves and booties will significantly reduce the discomfort if you are not used to cold.
  • This is the one swim of the year where wetsuits are definitely NOT ALLOWED!
Newtown & Guillamene club members, Christmas swim 2011

Newtown & Guillamene club members, Christmas swim 2011

Dancing With The Devil – A Christmas Day Swim Rescue

BEFORE THE SWIM

  • Do NOT stand around talking once you are changed into your swimsuit. Get to the water. Change as close to the water as you safely can. You want to reduce the time exposed before and after swimming. Make sure your clothes are above the high water line though.
  • It’s NORMAL to be NERVOUS of Cold Water. Your body is adapted to avoid cold. Just be positive. Accept the increased heart rate. Tell yourself you are a swimming god.
  • Wear the sandals as close to the edge as you can. The ground usually will be colder than the sea. Cold = numb feet = lacerations = blood.
  • SPLASH WATER on your face before immersion. This indicates to your body extreme cold is coming (by which I include temperatures of up to 12C/55F. I can’t take someone calling 14C/58F cold seriously, no matter how I try). It will allow your heart rate to settle quicker. It’s very specifically the face and NOT any other part of the body.
  • DO NOT DIVE IN. Just don’t do it. I don’t care how tough you think you are. Unless you are a very experienced cold water swimmer this is a dumb thing to do. It causes heart attacks and rock impacts. But don’t stand there trying to get in either. Walk in to your waist. Splash the water. Then off you go. No more than one minute getting immersed.
  • It’s not a competition. Stay clear and watch everything. Move carefully. Depending on your location there may be lots of people who don’t know what they are doing in the water that day. There will be 100s at my regular spot, whereas most weekends there’s just me.
  • Just as you get in … tell yourself it’s warm. It doesn’t matter if you hear the sucking sound of body parts rapidly shrinking inwards. Cold is partially about attitude. Tell yourself it’s actually better than you thought: Hell, it’s almost warm. I was worried about this?
RNLI Rib on duty for the annual Guillamene Christmas swim

RNLI Rib on duty for the annual Guillamene Christmas swim

DURING THE SWIM

  • STAY CALM. You may float for up to a minute as your heart rate reduces toward normal.
  • DO NOT STOP SWIMMING IN THE WATER once you start. Keep moving which will keep you warm.
  • Without experience it is difficult to get your face into cold water. This is normal.
  • Cold stimulates the gasp reflex through increased heart rate. After the initial 10 seconds It makes breathing difficult for the first three minutes. This is also normal. And why you splash water on your face and get in slowly.
  • HAVE A GREAT TIME. Feel like a hero. Do 10 metres. Or 20 or 50 or 500 metres. It won’t kill you.
After a very cold 2010 and very low numbers in attendance, Guillamenes Christmas Swim 2011 saw a return of the crowds, with thousands of Euro raised for charity.

After a very cold 2010 and very low numbers in attendance, the Guillamenes Christmas Swim 2011 saw a return of the crowds, with a couple of thousand Euro raised for charity.

EXITING THE WATER

  • Watch your exit. Be careful. It is at this point most lacerations occur on the feet, legs and hands.
  • Get your footwear on immediately and get to your clothes and get dressed immediately.
  • If the temperature is below 10C, you will likely be a vivid lobster-red colour. Your skin will also be tingling all over your body. You may go from pain to numbness. There is no in-between.

AFTER THE SWIM

  • AFTER-DROP is dangerous. You have only a few minutes before its onset unless you are only swimming a short time. After-drop is the body temperature dropping after you exit the water. It’s not a problem if you are only in a couple of minutes, though that time is less if the temperature is 5C (40F) or under.
  • DO NOT VIGOROUSLY TOWEL YOURSELF. It speeds up the arrival of Afterdrop where you core temperature drops suddenly as warm blood reaches your core.
  • Dry the torso first. Dress the torso. Then put on a hat. Then dress the lower body. Then and only then, have your chat, your hot chocolate or soup.
  • FEEL GREAT, job well done!

And after you finish your Christmas swim, and after you finish your Christmas dinner, what better than an excellent film about open water swimming?

 

Swimming Santas at Christmas 2012

Swimming Santas at Christmas 2012

 

 

Related articles
Dancing With The Devil – A Christmas Day Swim Rescue.

29 Irish Christmas Swims in 2015.

WHY would anyone swim in cold water? (loneswimmer.com)

And just in case you are attempting your first long pool session during the holidays, How To: Swim your first pool marathon swimming session (long article).

 

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16 thoughts on “How To: Advice for Christmas or New Year swimming in cold water for beginner or casual open water swimmers – What Would Santa Do?

  1. Pingback: How To: Advice for Christmas or New Year swimming in cold water for beginner or casual open water | LV.FaithStamp

  2. This is the best guide for swimming in cold water especially during Christmas. I will must keep in mind the necessary protocols that you have mentioned before going for swimming. Thanks for sharing this great featured article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent safety advice great post, too early to tell if I’ll be swimming. Regardless though I’ll be down for a look and no doubt be reflecting on the events of last Christmas 2015. Stay safe and may the force be with all of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been vigorously reading your blog for the past week or so; it is awesome! I had never heard of cold water or ice swimming before and I think it is just so amazing. I was a competitive swimmer in school and now just occasionally swim laps; but I made it to the pool twice this week inspired by your blog and also Lynne Cox. Of course it felt cold to me (70 something F), I am originally from Florida haha. So have a long way to go. But am definitely toying with the idea of working up towards some chillier water. I’ve now got my eye on some creeks and ponds in my area…And reminiscing about some icy swims I’ve taken in my life; a glacial lake in Norway as a child and several rivers in Maine when I was a raft guide years ago; there is definitely something special about cold water swims and can totally understand why this is a sport. You ice swimmers are SOOOO awesome; wow! Also, as a nurse (working towards my doctorate) I really appreciate all the safety advice. Look forward to following your blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Journal has already passed judgement:
    “Lone swimming should be avoided and all swimmers should be cognisant that time in the water should be kept to a minimum as even the most experienced of swimmers can easily succumb to cramp or cold water shock”
    http://www.thejournal.ie/storm-barbara-3155406-Dec2016/
    They’re watchin’ you, Donal!
    Have a great swim, and a great Christmas. Thanks for all the great posts over the year. Here’s to many more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Dancing With The Devil – A Christmas Day Swim Rescue | LoneSwimmer

  7. Pingback: In case you are considering a cold water swim at Christmas or the New Year, here is my annual cold water safety advice (from an extreme cold water swimmer) | On Reddit

  8. Pingback: Holiday Season Swims | Owen O'Keefe

  9. Really accurate useful advice! Planning and thinking ahead is really important for winter swims. Some of the suggestions may sound simple but can make a real difference – having something to stand on for instance (I use polystyrene and it feels warm).

    Liked by 1 person

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