Thinking about dipping your toes into the world of wild swimming but don't know how to start? We often get asked about how you can get into wild swimming if you are new to it.
So we have put together this handy little guide with all the points you should consider when taking the plunge into the open water safely. Broken down into two separate guides, this is the first part where we take you through some of the things to consider even before you get wet!
1. Check with your doctor before attempting cold water swimming
It is always advisable to check with your doctor or health care provider before you take your first dip, especially if you have any health conditions.
2. Cold water showers or splashing your face with cold water.
One way you can start to prepare your body for the cold water; whilst on dry land, is by taking cold water showers or splashing your face with cold water.
Some people find that by gradually introducing a cold blast of water at the end of their shower can help their body to start getting used to the cold water. You could also try splashing your face with cold water.
3. Do you know about cold water shock and after drop?
Cold water shock is when the cold water causes the blood vessels in the skin to shrink causing the blood flow to reduce and heart rate to increase. This in turn means the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body increasing the blood pressure. Breathing rates will increase as you enter the water and your natural reaction is to gasp for breath. It is therefore important to slowly enter the water and to control your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths.
After drop is when your body temperature continues to drop even after you have exited the water. This means you will continue to get colder for even up to 40 minutes after you have come out of the water. This is why it is SO important to not wait until you feel cold before getting out of the water and to get out of your wet swim kit, dry yourself and layer up with dry warm clothes as soon as possible. We talk about how to warm up safely and the importance of keeping within your time limits in part two.
4. Do a recce of your swim spot and do a risk assessment
It is always advisable to do a recce and a risk assessment of where you are going to swim. Also, if swimming somewhere new to you, speak to locals, other swimmers or lifeguards; when on duty, who are familiar with the swim location to find out about any potential hazards.
Here are some things to consider:
- Tides - if swimming in the sea, what are the tides doing? Will you get cut off by an incoming tide, is there a pull of an outgoing tide or will you be out of your depth if there are sandbanks with shallow pools which will become deeper when the tide comes in?
- Currents - are there any currents; in particular rip currents, and do you know how to spot one and get out of one if you get caught? In a river, once you are in are you able to climb out easily again, how fast is the flow of the river and will you be carried downstream if you get caught in it?
- Waves - is there much swell that day and how big are the waves?
- Water temperature - what is the temperature of the water? Take into consideration the temperature of the water and adjust your time in the water accordingly.
Water quality - unfortunately our waterways and sea are subject to pollution and sewage. We highly recommend downloading the free app Safer Seas by Surfers Against Sewage.
The app alerts water users when sewer overflows discharge untreated human sewage into the sea and when water quality is temporarily reduced due to heavy rainfall and pollution incidents.
- Wind - can reduce your body temperature even further and can make the water's surface choppy.
- Rain - rainfall can cause run off from fields, increasing water pollution and making it harder to keep your clothes dry and more difficult to get changed.
- Outside temperature - colder outside temperatures will mean you are colder before you start your swim and make it harder to warm up post swim.
- Entry and exit points - is it safe and easy to get into the water, are there any sharp rocks, or could you slip? Can you quickly and easily exit the water? Will the flow of the river take you downstream and where will you be able to get out?
- Rescue equipment - are there any lifebuoy rings nearby should you or someone get into trouble?
- Phone signal - do you have mobile phone service should you need to call for help? Do you have your phone in a waterproof phone bag which you can use in the water?
- Location - do you know where you are and how to get back to the car? Would you be able to provide the emergency services with your exact location? We recommend downloading the app “what3words” for accurate locations
If you are new to wild swimming or swimming in the open water it would also be a good idea to stick to beaches which are patrolled by Lifeguards or to an outdoor swimming venue which has lifeguards.
5. Go with a buddy and/or have someone on dry land watching you
It is a good idea to go along with an experienced outdoor swimmer for your first swims, they can talk you through it and make you feel a lot more supported when taking the plunge. Even better, have someone who is going to stay on dry land to keep an eye on you and do they know what to do should you need help.
6. Cover up cuts and open wounds
It is a good idea to cover up cuts and open wounds with waterproof plasters.
7. Make sure you have the right kit
Wild swimming can give you a great sense of freedom, all you need is some swimwear and a towel and your good to go right? But making sure you have the right kit is important to ensure your wild swimming sessions are as pleasant and safe as possible.
We have compiled a list of the kit which can make your swims safer:
Some people prefer to swim in 'skins' which is just a swimsuit or swim shorts but if you are new to wild swimming we would recommend you wear something that can keep you a bit warmer until your body acclimatises like a wetsuit or a thermocline suit below.
The Fourth Element long sleeve thermocline swimsuit is one of our best sellers on the store. It bridges the gap perfectly between a wetsuit and a swimsuit, and is the equivalent to 2mm of neoprene but unlike neoprene you don't feel constrained in it.
Neoprene boots and gloves
Your feet and hands are often where you feel the coldest, so having some neoprene boots or shoes and gloves can make a huge difference to your time in the water.
With cold hands it can make it very difficult to get changed afterwards, so it is very important to make sure they don't get too cold. We stock Fourth Element 3mm neoprene gloves.
The Fourth Element Rock Hopper 3mm neoprene shoes are lined with OceanPositive fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. They will give you better grip and keep your feet safe from sharp rocks or pebbles.
Bright coloured swimming hat
We really recommend wearing a bright coloured swimming hat when you are in the water, not only will it make it easier for you to be seen, it can also keep your head that little bit warmer. Check out our own The Wild Swim Store silicone red swimming hats.
A good pair of goggles is key for when you are wild swimming and want to put your head under the water. In all of Jay's years of open water swimming he has tried a huge range of goggles and the best ones he's found are Zone 3's Vapour Photochromatic goggles and their cheaper pair Zone 3 Attack Photochromatic goggles.
It is important to protect your ears and guard against infection when swimming. We stock Swim Secure ear plugs, the soft material and contoured shape ensures a comfortable and reliable fit.
Keep your valuables safe
Whilst you are in the water swimming, you will be so preoccupied that it is hard to keep an eye on your clothes and valuables left on the side, beach or riverbank. There are a variety of options to keep them safe, from a dry bag, a waterproof bumbag to a waterproof phone bag. Check out our blog post on How to Keep Your Valuables Safe Whilst Wild Swimming to find out more.
A changing robe is the piece of essential wild swimming gear that has become synonymous with its rise in popularity over the last few years. For the uninitiated they are an oversized "cloak" with a set of sleeves.
This enables you to get changed pre and post swim, without the classic blush inducing towel-round-the-waist-beach-fumble, or indeed the timeless Mr Bean Y-fronts over the trousers shuffle.
Waterproof phone bag
Taking a phone with you when you are swimming is recommended should you get into trouble. We stock Swim Secure's Waterproof Phone Pouch.
Taking a bright coloured tow float with you whilst swimming is advisable. It has a strap which attaches around your waist, and the bright colour will alert other water users like boats and jet skis to your presence. The Swim Secure dry bag allow you to store some items in it like clothes and valuables and can support an adult's weight if you need to rest.
Check out the tow floats we stock here.
We have all been there, you go for a swim only to realise you have forgotten your towel and end up having to dry yourself with a sock or use one of your vital layers of clothes. But having an absorbent, quick drying, lightweight towel makes all the difference to drying yourself quickly so you can get those all important layers on and start to warm up.
These beautiful 100% cotton hammam towels by Ebb Flow Cornwall work perfectly post swim, they are lightweight, pack down small and quick drying.
A changing mat is the perfect wild swimming accessory, it is not an essential piece of kit but it is so welcome to have something dry and warm to stand on whilst getting changed.
The Frostfire Moonbag is a unique multi functional bag designed for easy changing from wet and dry clothes. Once dressed after your swim you can just close it up into a convenient carry bag; with your soggy gear inside, pour yourself a hot drink and natter away.
One thing we always ensure we do when going for a cold water swim is to make sure we have some way to time ourselves. It is often too easy to get distracted and end up staying in too long. By having a waterproof watch on you can keep an eye on how long you have been in. We always advise new wild swimmers to start off with short cold water immersion times building up gradually with each swim.
It is so important to layer up quickly when you come out from a swim, having lots of warm layers to put on is a must as well as, particularly in winter, a hat, scarf, gloves and warm socks. In our book, you can never have too many layers!
Now that you have read through Part One, hop on over to check out Part Two now.
Important note - whilst every effort has been made to advise on the risks associated with wild swimming, please do so at your own risk. The Wild Swim Store will not be held legally or financially responsible for any accident, injury or loss as a result of the above information.