10 tips for cold water swimming

An article in The Guardian this week reported a 323% rise in the number of people swimming outdoors. And we’re not surprised having seen huge numbers of swimmers in Clevedon Marine Lake in recent months.

As the water temperature plummets (10-11 degrees centigrade at time of writing) and we hear more and more about the health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor swimming, we asked one of our Open Water Swimming Coaches for her top tips for safe winter swimming.

  1. Be safe
    Swim in a safe spot, watching out for currents and tides. The lake is safe all the time apart from when the tide comes over the wall. Check here for the high tide height — if it’s over 12.6m, swim an hour earlier or an hour later.
  2. Get acclimatised
    This means taking short, regular dips as the temperature drops so your body gets used.
  3. Swim together
    Never swim on your own. It’s best to buddy up, or at least have someone watching you from the side.
  4. No diving
    Cold water shock causes you to gasp and makes you unable to hold your breath. If this happens underwater it can be deadly. Most of the lake is shallow and there are rocks under the surface, which adds to the danger of diving.
  5. Wear a hat
    Or two! Swimming hat or bobble hat, it’ll keep you warmer and make sure others can see you.
  6. Dip
    Winter’s for dipping. Stay in for 1 minute per degree of temperature MAX. You keep on cooling down for half-an-hour after you get out of the water, so this will protect you from hypothermia and the afterdrop.
  7. Know your limits
    If you can swim a mile in the pool it doesn’t mean you can swim a mile outdoors. Your muscles will tire quickly and you’ll find it harder to control your breathing. Start with short swims.
  8. Stay near the exit
    It’s better to swim a few small laps than try to swim lengths of the lake.
  9. Take warming up seriously
    Wear a bobble hat, extra layers, drink a warm drink and eat something. Go somewhere warm, but avoid a hot bath or shower and don’t drive home until you’ve stopped shivering!
  10. Educate yourself and others
    Read up, listen to this podcast (free, but does include swearing), and then help others learn about how to enjoy swimming outdoors in winter safely.

Watch out, thieves about!

Clevedon Marine Lake has long had a trusting community where swimmers think nothing of leaving their bags on the side while they go for a swim. However, just recently there have been reports of thefts, which are making lake users think twice about where they leave their valuables.

Being careful

Of course, in an ideal world, nobody would feel the need to steal. But by not leaving valuables where they can be taken, we can help reduce the temptation.

We recommend:

  • leaving your valuables at home or in the car
  • using a dry bag like these to keep your valuables with you while you’re in the water
  • bringing a buddy to look after your things
  • swimming/paddleboarding/canoeing close to the side where you’ve left your stuff
  • keeping an eye on other people’s stuff while they’re in the water

It’s worth remembering that swimming alone or long distances in the winter isn’t to be recommended. For information on safe cold water swimming, read this.

Spare clothes

These thefts are still rare. But one swimmer was unlucky enough to have all his kit taken, including his dry clothes. So, a group of local swimmers have donated spare towels and clothes which will be kept in the Salthouse so that if anyone else finds themselves in this situation, they will at least have something warm and dry to put on.

If you find some of your stuff has been stolen, please email info@clevedonmarinelake.co.uk and also report the theft to the police.