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How to sea swim in winter: Get out while you can still feel your hands

Keep your swims short: time flies when you are having fun, but hypothermia isn’t fun

Fancy a swim?
There's nothing like a dip in the sea in winter. Your day can only get easier after that. When everything in life is about maximising comfort and convenience, cold water can be a welcome discomfort.

So I just cannonball right in then?
Take it gradually to avoid cold water shock, says Jessica Lamb of Swim Ireland. "The best advice is to walk in very slowly, get halfway to your hips and splash your chest, the tops of your arms and your face before you submerge. Take your time. No one is in a rush. If someone is rushing you, politely tell them not to."

I'm heading for the buoy!
Everyone loves a challenge, but make it a safe one. "You can swim just as far parallel to the shore as you can if you swim out to a buoy," says Lamb. This makes for a more relaxed swim and a safer swim every time. "You are more relaxed knowing at any point, in a short time, you can get to shore. Having a friend in the water or on shore keeping an eye is something you may really value some day."

I only go for the chats
Time flies when you are having fun, but hypothermia isn't fun. "One of the most common things is just getting in for a dip and chatting with friends, but time can run away from you," says Lamb.
When you first enter cold water, there's a rush of blood and adrenalin, but when you start to shiver, it's time to get out. Hypothermia sets in when your core temperature drops below 35 degrees. Your body diverts blood to your organs, shutting everything else down. This can knock even the most experienced swimmers, says Lamb. "It's quite dangerous as it creeps up gradually. It presents first as shivering, feeling really cold, low energy, but then it can progress to uncontrollable shivering, loss of co-ordination, confusion and not being able to speak." Get out while you can still feel your hands.


But 10 minutes is my target. . .
Ten minutes in the sea might be fine one day but not the next, says Lamb. "You need to take into account not just the water temperature but ground temperature and wind chill factor, all these things make a huge difference to how your body reacts to the water. It can also be different day to day, depending on how tired you are, or how much food you've had. You might normally spend 10 minutes in the water but on another day, you can get out after 10 minutes and feel really cold and be unable to put your clothes on."

So, we chat on the beach then?
Snap off those wet togs and get your clothes on first. "In winter, the water temperature is warmer than the air, so when you get out, your body temperature continues to fall, there is nothing to warm you up," says Lamb. "You get colder and colder until you are dry and dressed. Prioritise getting dressed. Once you are dressed, you can chat for as long as you want."

I'm addicted!
Cold water swimming can be addictive, but don't let chasing the dragon cloud your judgment. Check for weather warnings, in particular small craft warnings. "You are a small craft, you are the smallest possible craft," says Lamb. Spring tides are strong and unpredictable, strong offshore winds are dangerous too.

Do I need a Dryrobe?
Nope, just something warm that makes it easy to dress. "It can be two towels sewn together, it can be a hooded towel or an expensive Dryrobe, but anything at all that gives you the ability to get dressed hands-free and cover from the wind," says Lamb. Of course if you do have a Dryrobe, this will be a flashing beacon of your vigour and asceticism and it's entirely necessary to wear it for the rest of the day.