With the pools closed, many keen swimmers are looking to outdoor or wild swimming as a way to get their water fix this winter. However, diving straight into cold water if you aren't a seasoned cold water swimmer is risky and can leave even very experienced pool swimmers in dangerous situations.
Here are our top five tips for getting into cold water safely.
1. Get Acclimatised
Water temperatures in the UK in ponds, lakes and the sea through winter (think November to April) can be as cold as 1 or 2 degrees. Literally freezing stuff. Given the average swimming pool is more like 21 to 25 degrees most of us simply aren't able to throw ourselves into outdoor swim spots with quite the same abandon if we aren't acclimatised.
The best way to get used to these colder temperatures isn't to simply dive in the deep end, but to keep swimming and dipping year-round, so that your body gets used to colder temperatures gradually. From double digit degrees in the summer, the body can tolerate single degree decreases in temperature week on week, month on month as winter rolls around.
If you haven't been swimming year round and are still desperate to get into your nearest outdoor spot, then apply the same logic and take it slowly. Start by just dipping hands and feet and seeing how you feel. The next time, wade slowly in up to your knees,... the next time up to your stomach.. and so on.
2. Have the Right Kit
Having the right kit for outdoor swimming can be quite different to the sort of things you might have in your rucksack for a pool swim. Forget goggles and a locker token, for outdoor swimming it's all about warmth - during and post swim.
First up you'll need a good quality, lined or bonded fabric swimsuit. The D&B Signature and Essential Swimsuits are made of bonded fabric (which behaves more like a neoprene) offering additional layers in cold water. We also recommend the Long Sleeve Swimsuit for giving additional coverage to cold arms.
If you're new to outdoor swimming then a good fitting wetsuit can be a great way to give additional warmth and coverage. Make sure the suit fits properly as gaping holes down the back can let a flood of cold water in and leave you feeling colder.
Hands and feet can get very chilly during outdoor swims so a good pair of neoprene gloves and booties to help keep your extremities warm can make a big difference. Watch this space for D&B versions coming soon...
Post swim, the "Right Kit" is everything you need to get dressed and warm quickly. We recommend a large oversized towelling robe that you can pop on immediately as you get out of the water. Our favourites are made by DryRobe or you can DIY one by sewing two large towels together. Gloves, socks and clothes that are easy to pop on if you're feeling cold and a bit damp (no, not your jeans, baggy joggers sound good!)
And finally, a flask of hot tea or coffee to help warm you from the inside out and something sweet or sugary to get your blood sugar up.
3. Go (Socially Distanced) with a Friend
The vast majority of outdoor swim spots don't have a lifeguard on duty who can help raise the alarm if you get into trouble. Therefore, wild swimming alone can be very dangerous - even for seasoned cold water swimmers.
The current UK guidelines permit exercise once daily with one person from another household - so we strongly recommend going for a socially distanced swim with a friend. Ideally, your pal would be an experienced outdoor swimmer so you can follow their lead.
Alternatively, we highly recommend taking a dip with a seasoned professional such as The Dip Advisor who can safely guide you through a cold water swim.
4. Listen to Your Body
Even regular cold water swimmers can have dips where their bodies don't behave like they usually do and so listening to how your body feels in the cold water and responding is one of the single most important things you can do.
If you're feeling cold or shaky then it's really important to get out, get warm and see how you feel after a short period of time. Even the most experienced swimmers can be at risk of hypothermia.
5. Know the Water
Lakes, ponds, the sea - all have their own risks. From unsafe water, to tides and difficult entry and exit points. Before you leap into a pool of water make sure you know:
a. How and where to safely get out
b. What the tides or current are doing
c. The condition of the water and whether it's safe to swim there
The UK has a very large and active outdoor swimming community. If you're heading to a swimspot that you don't know or haven't visited previously, then get in touch with your local outdoor swimming Facebook group for latest advice and guidance on water safety.
When practiced safely, outdoor swimming is one of the most fun activities on the planet - a brilliant workout and a refreshing reset for the mind and the body. But like all extreme sports, it's important to take some time beforehand to make sure you are prepared - with the right kit, information, company and expectations - and you'll have a fantastic time.
For more brilliant safety advice we recommend looking at the following websites which offer even more comprehensive information on safe outdoor swimming: