Cold Water Swimming – Freshen up!

Cold water swimming, I’d rather take a nice hot relaxing bath…… but you never remember a hot bath. You want to make memories – right? Well, cold water is in vogue and now’s the right time of year to strip off and get your speedos on (other brands do exist).

I’ve met up with my good friend Mike Alexander to ask him a few questions and sieve out some top tips for us new to the art of staying afloat in cold water temperatures. Mike is one of the most experienced cold water adventure swimmers and leading water safety experts in the UK – so there’s no better person to take a dip into his pool of knowledge.

If you’re already a swimmer then that’s a great start. If you’re new to the swimming game then jumping in at the deep end with long distance, cold water swims might not be the best idea! Here are Mike’s top tips

Cold Water Swimming


Why start cold water swimming in the first place? It’s got huge health benefits, from boosting your immune system to improving your mental health. However, don’t underestimate how cold water immersion will affect you. Ease yourself in gently! Taking cold showers/baths at home is a good start, if you don’t live near any outdoor cold water venues. If you are lucky enough to live next to the sea, lakes or rivers then start swimming in the summer and then continue to swim regularly as the temperature drops. This is a great way of slowly getting used to that temperature change – whatever you do, do it gradually. A similar process to high altitude mountaineering – acclimatise. There are lots of open water venues, events and social groups that can help you with this process.



Cold water swimming needs minimal gear. This is a bonus! Just a costume, goggles and swim cap are the usual attire. It is often frowned upon to wear a wetsuit – coping with chilliness is key to the challenge! To aid the transition from warm to cold some swimmers use a neoprene vest, gloves and booties.


Bay to bay, hugging the coastline, is a fantastic way of getting some distance covered. Check maps, charts, swell, rips, tides and tidal streams. If you’re not comfortable with tidal planning find someone who is. Sea Kayaking and Coasteering are great activities that enable exploration of rugged coastlines and can lead you to some fantastic swim spots. There’s nothing quite like the power of waves to blast away your worries, or create worries if you get it wrong. Be prepared!

Getting to know a local area of coast or estuary is a great idea. Check tide times, get in the water regularly, know what to expect and continue to take dips on a regular basis as the temperature drops.

The UK seas are relatively welcoming compared to waters north of our border. If you’re looking for colder seas, it’s an easy find – simply grab a globe stick your finger on the top third, give it a spin and bingo…….you’ve got your next cold water swimming destination.

Britain is an island with a magnificent amount of coast – there is a great tradition of daily sea-swimming in locations around the country. Find out what’s happening near you! If you are not sure a good place to start is the online crowd-sourced swim map


If you are looking for cold water all year round then head for the mountains. The UK has  countless cold rivers and lakes – the higher the water the colder it is. So it is possible to start your cold water acclimatisation anytime of year, as long as you don’t mind getting high! But bear in mind that the higher and more remote you are, the further away from help you’ll become.

Cool, fresh, deep, shallow, fast, slow, but always invigorating. Getting involved with mountain rivers always soothes the soul and energises the mind and body.

Rivers are a sort of downhill swim and are often overlooked by people in search of large bodies of open water but you need to make sure you’re not about to swim head first off a waterfall or through a Grade 5 rapid.  Planning is the key, the UK Rivers Guidebook is an invaluable online resource used and created for paddlesports but very useful for swimmers too –

Scour the relevant Ordnance Survey map, head into the hills, head to the coast and see what you can find. If you’re experienced with map reading and mountain walking, then this is relatively easy to do, just look for the blue bits. If not, you could combine your search for swimming antics with another water-based activity: kayaking, canyoning, trekking, gorge walking – these pursuits are generally catered for more than wild swimming.

Cold Water Swimming


So you’ve found somewhere that looks great for a quick dip or a long soak….but no-one else is swimming. Is it safe? Are you mad to do this? Four key considerations before getting into any body of water are Depth, Exit, Flow and Temperature (DEFT). Also be alert to rip currents in the sea and stoppers, shallow rocks and overhanging trees in rivers.

It’s paramount to know how and where you are going to get out, always have an exit strategy. Include in your exit strategy your post-swim recovery. Go into survival mode – shelter, warmth, food – get out the wind, layer up, drink tea, eat cake. Avoid hot showers/baths: this may warm the extremities but it can also lead to a dangerous cooling of the core.

Best of all…don’t go alone. Get a friend involved, even if they don’t want to get in the water, they can watch, cheer and provide all the moral and physical comforts that one would want, particularly in the recovery phase post-swim.

In some quarters of the open water swimming world there’s a little bit of a “skins” versus “wetsuits” rivalry, generally friendly banter, however don’t let the banter force you into swimming skins if you are not comfortable doing so. If you are somewhere between the wetsuit and skins standpoint some neoprene gear that provides warmth with least restriction is a neoprene vest, gloves, booties and skull cap.

Always remember that water temperature isn’t the most important thing, the time you spend in that water is. Start with a few minutes and build, and never, ever, ever neglect your post-swim recovery strategy.

If taking the icy plunge wasn’t enough then here are a few challenges:

Cold Water Swimming



The basic rules for swimming an ice mile are pretty straightforward. Find a body of water that is below 5C, and swim one km or one mile under supervision wearing only your swimming costume, a pair of goggles and one silicone swimming hat. There is a relatively new organisation, the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA), which is ratifying swims, although not everyone feels the need for officialdom.

The IISA requires swimmers to have completed a qualifying Ice Km swim, and an ECG before any Ice Mile attempt, and to have a medical team on hand for the recovery phase at the end of the swim. It’s a serious endeavour that should not be taken lightly. Successful ice mile completion relies on a long acclimatisation period usually over several winters. The next IISA world championships is on 14th March 2019 in Murmansk. Some countries have already selected their team, however you may still be able to take part.


The Irish round of the Ice Swimming Championships is held at Wild Water, Armagh, and pits competitors against 1,000m of ice cold conditions. The fastest time at last year’s event was a cool 13 minutes, and you should only consider entering if the idea of being submerged in sub-zero temperatures doesn’t send a shiver down your spine. All the IISA events are here –


Take on a cold 500m race or the Ice KM in one of Liverpool’s most historic docks whilst raising funds for BLOODWISE and Action on Pre-Eclampsia. The Ice KM can be used as your Ice Mile qualifier. Further details and event entry –

Cold Water Swimming