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Cold water shock warning for winter dippers and wild swimmers


By John Davidson

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Coastguard safety appeal.
Coastguard safety appeal.

Wild swimmers are being urged to be cautious this Christmas with many cold-water dips cancelled.

The Coastguard issued its warning at the end of a year in which swimming pools have been closed for many months and more people have taken to open-water swimming.

It says there has been a significant increase in people enjoying open-water swimming and cold-water dipping – a trend that has seen call-outs to HM Coastguard rise by 52 per cent for swimming-related incidents – up from 183 between August and November 2019 to 385 for the same period in 2020.

Swimming in the sea is a tradition for many over Christmas and New Year but many organised events with safety marshalls have been called off this year.

The Coastguard says it wants the ever-growing number of swimmers and dippers to be aware of the risks and know how to enjoy the activity safely, especially during the winter season.

Coastal operations area commander Fiona Hastie said: “Many people find that swimming in the sea and cold-water dipping have physical and mental health benefits but please remember these activities can also result in cold water shock which is extremely dangerous.

“Cold water shock is a risk when the water temperature is 15 degrees Celsius and below. Our average sea temperature around the UK is just six to 10 degrees Celsius in the winter and the shock of cold water can catch out even the fittest and strongest of swimmers.

“So we’re asking everyone to be fully prepared before entering the water and follow safety advice to stay as safe as possible.”

HM Coastguard's advice for cold-water dippers and open-water swimmers is:

  • Don’t swim alone
  • Check the weather forecast and tide times
  • Ensure you have warm clothes for before and after your dip
  • Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
  • Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
  • Acclimatise to the water temperature slowly – never jump straight in
  • Stay in your depth and know your limits
  • If you get into trouble remember FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
  • Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
  • If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim
  • If you or someone else gets into trouble at sea or along the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

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