8 Essential Cold Water Swimming Safety Tips

January 19, 2023 4 min read

man wearing swim cap, goggles and wetsuit swimming in a lake

With the many physical and mental health benefits it provides, it’s no surprise that cold water swimming has become a popular activity. However, like any outdoor activity, it does of course come with its own risks. What’s important is managing those risks by getting yourself clued up on cold water swimming safety before you take the plunge. These are 8 essential safety tips to bear in mind:

Choose Your Location Wisely 

A crucial part of cold water swimming safety is careful planning and preparation. It’s important to choose a location that is free of hazards, like sharp rocks, and that has an easy entry and exit point. You should also choose somewhere that you are visible to onlookers. Check the weather and tide times before you head out, and if you’re ever unsure that conditions might not be up to scratch, don’t go out. The safest way to go cold water swimming is with a group in your local area. 

Never Swim Alone 

As we mentioned a moment ago, the safest way to go swimming in cold water is with an organised group. Not only is this safer, it's also a great opportunity to meet new people. However, if you’re not heading out with a group then make sure that you’re swimming with at least one other person. This is a crucial cold water swimming safety tip as it means that you’ll be able to call for help if one of you runs into trouble. 

two cold water swimmers wearing beanies

Bring A Phone & Tell Someone Where You’re Going

Another simple but important cold water swimming safety tip is remembering to bring a mobile phone. The easiest thing to do is bring a waterproof pouch that you can place your phone in and leave on the shore. It’s a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back so that they can raise the alarm if you’re not back when expected. If you get delayed for any reason, remember to give them a quick call or text so that they’re not worried unnecessarily. 

Stay Warm Before You Enter The Water 

There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to feel cold once you get in the water, and so it’s important to keep yourself nice and toasty beforehand. Fourth Element’s fleece lined Tidal Robe is perfect for throwing on over your wetsuit to keep warm on your way to the water, and benefits from cosy hand warmer pockets. Don’t forget a beanie to keep your head warm, and try to keep moving rather than standing around to raise your core body temperature a little.

model wearing fourth element tidal robe on a white background

Wear The Correct Cold Water Swimming Gear 

Another essential cold water swimming safety tip is making sure you’re wearing the right gear. A wetsuit with a decent thickness is a must-have. Something like the Scubapro Sport 5mm wetsuit for men/women provides the perfect balance between insulation and freedom of movement for swimming. In addition to this, we’d recommend wearing gloves and boots to protect your extremities, alongside a swimming cap to provide extra warmth whilst also making you more visible. When swimming in open water, always use a tow float in order to provide you with extra support whilst enhancing visibility. 

Enter The Water Slowly 

As tempting as it might be, avoid diving or jumping into the water. Entering the water gradually is crucial for how to prevent cold water shock, as this will help you to acclimatise to the cold temperatures. When you enter cold water, your body’s natural reaction is to gasp for breath. If this happens it’s important to remain calm. In order to acclimatise, splash your face and shoulders with some of the cold water and wade in gradually before fully immersing your shoulders. 

man wearing a wetsuit wading into water

Know Your Limits 

Don’t expect to stay in the water for as long as you would when swimming in warm conditions. During the winter, cold water swimmers will only be in the water for as little as a few minutes at a time. If you start to feel too cold or tired then make sure to get out of the water quickly and get warm. An important cold water swimming safety tip for beginners is to stay close to the shore until you become comfortable with your limits. 

Warm Up Gradually

Although it might be tempting, it’s important to avoid jumping in a hot shower straight after your swim, as this can cause your blood pressure to drop. Instead, dry off and get dressed into warm clothes. Again, the Fourth Element Tidal Robe is perfect for throwing on after a swim, enabling you to change out of wet gear easily, whilst keeping warm in the process. Fourth Element’s fast-drying Storm Poncho that benefits from a fleece lining and peaked hood, is another great option. Don’t forget to bring a warm beanie and your favourite hot drink to enjoy as you bask in that post-swim glow. 

fourth element storm ponchos in an assortment of colours on a white background
Noeleen Smith
Noeleen Smith

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