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Swimming in open water safely

Posted on Wed, 11 May, 2016 in Safety

One of our regulars, and cross channel swimmer, Kate Robarts has a few pearls of wisdom to share when it comes to swimming in safety.

Swim safe

Advice for those new to open water.

If you’re new to this sport and new to colder water, here are a few things to consider.

Don’t consume alcohol before swimming. 

It’s advisable to wear a swimming cap. Once your hair gets wet, even from splashes, your head will get cold and you will lose heat.

Wear earplugs. Not only will they keep the water out and keep you warmer, but they will also help to prevent a nasty condition called “surfer’s ear”, in which the ear canal narrows and bony growths called exostoses can form in the canal. (Wikipedia: Exostosis of the ear canal)

Develop a routine. Always have your towel, changing robe, and warm clothes laid out in the right order and easily accessible, where you can get into them quickly.

The thing to consider in the water……Cold Shock…….. how the body responds when you first get in. This is not hypothermia. It is a sudden shock to the system which can result in gasping and hyperventilation, accompanied by pain in the extremities, especially hands, feet and face. In extreme cases, the sudden cold can cause cardiac arrest. It’s advisable to get in slowly and take time for breathing to slow down.

Muscles are less effective in cold water and become even more so if you start to get cold. This means you will probably swim more slowly. You will probably slow down even more, the longer you stay in. Keep moving. Cold water isn’t a place to bob and chat if you’re not used to it.

If you start to shiver in the water or find you cannot control your fingers individually, opening and closing them easily, it’s time to get out. If you’re not sure, head for the steps! Hail the lifeguard if you feel you can’t make it back. (If you’re somewhere without lifeguards or steps, get out of the water as quickly as possible.)

Your body temperature will continue to fall after you’ve left the water. This is called “after drop” and is worse if the air temperature is cold or it’s windy. This is not the best time to stand around in a wet costume, or with wetsuit half on, half off, having a chat.

Do NOT have a hot shower if you are very cold. Warm your body up gradually, by wearing lots of layers. Give your body a chance to recover naturally.

Shivering is fine. It’s the body’s mechanism for warming you up.

On leaving the water, get out of your costume and into a warm base layer as quickly as possible. Leave your swim cap on until you are ready to replace it with a woolly or fleecy hat. The best clothes to wear for a swimming session out of doors are those without buttons, zips or complicated fastenings. Pull on clothes and shoes, a thermal top, layers of tee shirts and fleeces and thick socks are all useful…… and don’t forget the hat!

When you’re all wrapped up, it’s time for a hot drink and something to eat.

Happy swimming!

If you’re looking for excellent advice about open water swimming and everything associated with it, here’s the link to Lone Swimmer’s award-winning blog. Lone Swimmer is an Irish marathon swimmer and English Channel soloist, extremely knowledgeable and the voice of reason.



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