Swimming during the sweltering summer season is fun and refreshing. But winter swimming conjures up all the "brrr..." in unbearable icy cold temperatures for some.
While swimming in freezing waters is not everyone's cup of tea, it does offer the thrill and adventure some crave. But before dipping into the ice waters, let's get to know some winter swimming safety tips and guidelines for a chilly dip. Safety always comes first.
What is winter swimming?
Winter swimming refers to quick baths in natural waters - seas, lakes, and rivers. It is usually practiced during early spring, fall, or winter. Water temperatures can range from 8 to 12 degrees Celsius. However, there are also some at temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius.
Swimming in ice-cold water poses certain dangers. One of which is hypothermia, a medical emergency. This happens when our body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. When our body temperature lowers than normal, our heart, nervous system, and other organs would malfunction. When left unattended, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory failure, and worse, death.
Winter Swimming Safety Tips
To counter any potential hazards winter swimming may bring, let's prepare well with these tips to gear you up for a fabulous swim.
Choose wisely the location.
Because the sea is more dangerous during the winter season, it's vital to choose the most sensible and ideal spots to swim in.
It's quite challenging to find swimming spots with lifeguards on duty during winter. So if you go somewhere without any, get to know beforehand the entry and exit points. Check also potential hazards in the place, like rocky areas.
Read the weather forecast and tide times.
Take time to read the weather forecast and sea conditions of your chosen location. Check also the tide times because no one wants to be swept away while at sea. Learn beforehand how to spot a rip current. When in doubt about the conditions, it's best to play safe and not go out.
Do a warm-up before hitting the water.
While some may think that a warm-up is not needed when winter swimming, it is in fact still needed.
Doing a warm-up increases your blood pressure and supplies oxygen to the cells to activate the thermoregulation mechanism.
Jogging, running, or walking around fast for 15 to 20 minutes are a few of the warm-up activities you can do before hitting the water. Doing so preps your body to get used to the cold temperature and prepares the foundation for your chilly dip.
Don't just jump into the water when winter arrives. Learn to acclimatize.
Start swimming during the summer season. Continue swimming with each change of the season to teach your body how to adjust to lowering water temperatures. Early practice is the key.
Swim with friends.
Winter swimming is best done with friends not only to make the experience more fun. Being with a group ensures safety as well in case of an emergency. It's also ideal if you can bring with you a kayaker to paddle along the waters as you and your friends take the chilly dip. You can also choose to have another individual on shore to provide support.
Bring a buoy.
Winter swimmers should always wear a brightly-colored swim buoy around the waist to make them visible to boaters. Together with the buoy is a handy dry bag for your phone and other emergency paraphernalia. Some even bring with them a hot drink in the buoys.
Know your limits.
Cold water influences your ability to swim. So it's always best to play safe by not pushing yourself to your limits.
Remember that the colder the water is, the less time you should spend in it. Stay within your depths. Swim parallel to the shore. Know the exit areas because the wind can throw you off course while in the water.
Warm up after swimming.
Recovery is the key when swimming during winter.
Leave your flip-flops at the water's edge so that when you get out of the water, you can easily wear them to protect your feet from the frozen ground in case you don't have a changing mat.
If you're in a wetsuit, take it off immediately after your swim and dry yourself with a towel. Start layering. You have to finish dressing up within five minutes.
Drink something warm and eat a sugary snack. While it's oh-so tempting to get a hot shower immediately, it's not really that ideal. This is because your body will think it's warm and will send the blood away from your organs.
Learn to float on your back.
In case you do run into trouble, remember to stay calm. If you suddenly experience cold water shock, float on your back until you can control your breathing. Resist the urge to swim and thrash around.
If you experience fatigue while swimming, roll on your back. Use your tow float and call for help.
Wear the right gear.
You've got to protect yourself from the freezing temperatures by wearing the essential cold water swimming gear, such as:
Thermal Winter Wetsuit
Having a thermal wetsuit may be the best investment you can have if you plan to make winter swimming a habit.
A thermal wetsuit is designed to keep you warm in water temperatures that are lower than 16 degrees Celsius.
It is made of a thicker neoprene and has warmer inner layers to keep heat within.
When buying one, check out the lining, flexibility, and buoyancy profile.
A neoprene vest can be worn on its own if the temperature is just right. It can also be worn under a thermal wetsuit to give an additional layer of protection when winter swimming.
Neoprene Booties, Gloves, and Changing Mats
To protect yourself from freezing temperatures, you've got to invest in quality neoprene boots and gloves if you want to swim in ice-cold water and extend your swimming time.
Using long-arm gloves and long socks tucked into your wetsuit arms and legs is ideal.
A frosty ground can easily snap out all of your body heat, so it's best to have a dependable changing mat ready as soon as you get out of the water.
Neoprene Bonnets, Snorkels, and Ear Plugs
Look for neoprene caps with chin straps or neoprene beanies to get that extra warmth you need to prevent your head from getting an ice cream headache. Because cold water can make some people feel dizzy, it's best to wear earplugs.
Winter Changing Robe
Get a waterproof changing robe that is fleece-lined to get that added warmth. Make sure that it's also waterproof and windproof so that feel warm and cozy after a freezing swim.
Swimming Socks or Shoes
You don't want to get cold feet on a winter swim. They offer protection not only from the freezing temperatures but also from anything thorny or spiky on the shore, such as pebbles.
Stay Warm Even at Freezing Temperatures
While winter swimming might not get the nods from everyone, it's still a great way to stay active in the open air despite the freezing temperatures. Proper planning and investing in the right swimming gear can make it a fun and safe winter activity.