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

At Christmas time, many people who would never consider getting in cold water will be thinking of a Christmas Eve, Christmas Day 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  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.  A cold water results in a positive physical sense of well-being that never decreases with repetition, unlike pretty much everything else in life.

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.

The weather forecast for 2017 Christmas Day on Ireland’s south coast is decent for casual Christmas swimmers. Winds will be south west to west and moderate. The notable difference will be the air temperature  which will be chilly. Winds will be onshore in the west, but light enough to for most swims to go ahead.

Despite the mild winter to date, the water on the south coast is actually a little colder than usual for Christmas (as it’s dictated by currents and lack and wind).

Winds in the southern part of the UK will approximate the same directions but with lower speed. Swimmers in San Francisco will debate the merits of which suntan lotion is best for what they laughingly call “winter“.

Most swims will go ahead. The Guillamene Christmas Swim, one of the longest running in Ireland, occurs between 11 am and 12. (It will be my tenth consecutive Christmas swim (possibly the only  local to do this, thanks to rough weather and unsafe conditions on three of the ten years))

List of Ireland’s 2017 Christmas swims (Irish Times).

UK Festive swims calendar 2016, (The Outdoor Swimming Society’s excellent list).

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 on Christmas 20125…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 vigilance of my friend Sam.

By the way, Santa confirmed to me  after last year that wetsuit swimmers are always on the Naughty list.


  • If swimming by yourself, make sure you inform someone where and when and 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.
  • If you have been drinking alcohol the night before, please don’t swim. Never swim after drinking alcohol the same day.
  • If you are planning more than one or two minute dip, then bring plenty of warm clothes for afterwards.


  • 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. Increased heart rate is common.
  • Wear sandals as close to the water’s edge as possible.
  • DO NOT DIVE IN. Expert swimmers actually enter more slowly. 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.
  • SPLASH WATER on your face before immersion to allow your breathing to slow.
  • It’s not a competition. Stay clear and watch everything. Depending on your location there may be lots of people who don’t know what they are doing in the water that day.
  • 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 water swimming is partially about attitude. Tell yourself it’s actually better than you thought: Hell, it’s almost warm. I was worried about this?


  • Stay Calm. You can float at the start top allow your heart rate to decrease.
  • Cold stimulates the gasp reflex through increased heart rate. After the initial 10 seconds extreme shock, it still makes breathing difficult for the next three minutes. This is also normal. It’s why you splash water on your face and get in slowly.
  • Once you start swimming, it’s best to keep swimming and not stop.
  • Have a great time.


  • Watch your exit. Be careful. This is when most injuries occur. Cold = numb feet = lacerations = more blood than you’d expect.
  • Get your footwear on immediately and get to your clothes and get dressed immediately. Have the craic after getting dressed.


  • AFTER-DROP is real, where core temperature drops so get dressed immediately, even if you feel warm, but it will not occur  for short swims of five minutes or less.
  • Do not vigorously towel yourself dry, dry normally.
  • FEEL GREAT, job well done!



Guillamenes Christmas swim 2007


RNLI Rib on duty for the annual Guillamene Christmas swim

RNLI Rib on duty for the annual Guillamene Christmas swim

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.



Swimming Santas at Christmas 2012

Swimming Santas at Christmas 2012



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

WHY would anyone swim in cold water? (

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).


19 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: Two Simple Reasons for trying a Christmas Swim | LoneSwimmer

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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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”
    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

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

  8. 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

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

  10. 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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