Since I started swimming outside glorious, hot, dry sunny Easter weekends have made me a little twitchy. Not because I’m so keen to swim, I don’t need sunny weather to entice me in anymore. No, it’s the allure of the water for everyone. Families, teenagers, romantic couples. With temperatures in the mid 20s this weekend people will be flocking to the seaside, lakes and rivers around the UK.
As I passed my local swim spots today they were no different. Families enjoying the water’s edge, groups of teens at every small bay. An idyllic scene. Why shouldn’t they enjoy it on such a glorious day?
But I get scared, worried that one of those teens or one of those children could join the drowning statistics from every warm Easter weekend throughout recent history. It’s a very sad fact that people lose their lives every year in water related incidents. Many are accidental but some are the result of people going in the water to cool down without realising how cold and debilitating that inviting water can be on a hot sunny day.
Let’s face it the UK isn’t known for its gloriously warm water. Whilst certain parts of the UK do have beautiful, azure tropical looking waters their temperature is usually a different story. Cold and crisp, squeal inducing, shiver causing, numbness producing.
Open waters in the UK can range from 0C in winter to the mid 20’s in summer. How warm they get depends on their size, altitude and local weather conditions. As a rule the sea is warmer over winter than rivers and lakes but this swaps around in the summer leaving the sea cooler than most inland water bodies. Indoor swimming pools in the UK range from around 26-32C. Anyone that’s been in a pool at the lower end of that temperature will know even the high 20s can take your breath away as you get in. So, let’s face it most open water in the UK is going to feel cold if you’re not used to it.
So why is this a problem?
Cold water does weird things to your body. Upon initial submersion your body can go into cold water shock, taking your breath away, making it hard to breathe. It can be panic inducing.
Once the cold water shock subsides you can feel good, feel like you can swim for a while, enjoying the chill. Eventually, slowly though the cold creeps in further, your arms and legs don’t work as well as they did, you might slow down. You struggle to swim. If you’re not near the shore and able to get out it becomes more and more difficult to keep your head above water. This is cold water incapacitation and it can be sneaky and dangerous.
I wrote in more detail about both of these on my advent thread here Cold Water Effects so if you want a bit more detail head over there.
So why is Easter weekend such a pinch point? Simply put the water’s still pretty cold. Two weeks ago my local swim spot was still only 8C. Even with the glorious weather we’ve had over the weekend the water will have only gained a couple of degrees. It takes a long time to warm up big bodies of water. I dipped today, and whilst I could manage a decent swim, it was probably only just in double figures.
So why do I swim in it but I warn others against it? Because I’m acclimatised to it. I’ve swum throughout the winter and my body has adapted to the cold. The Human body’s an amazing thing and over time it learns to deal with the cold. For anyone that isn’t acclimatised they are likely to struggle with the cold and could end up getting into difficulty.
What I’m saying here isn’t to not swim at all. I love open water more than cake and my passion for it probably teeters on the boring at times. I want everyone to be able to experience what I feel. So, I’d never tell anyone not to swim. All I would say is think about what you’re doing. If you want to dip on a glorious hot day go for it, but please be careful. Be aware that the water’s probably cooler than you’re used to and how that might affect your capabilities. Get in slowly, don’t dive straight in and put your body into shock, let your body get used to the cold slowly. Stay near the shore, stay within your depth if you can, particularly if you’ve never done it before and you’re not sure how your body’s going to react.
And please, please if you’re taking your kids, get in the water with them. Children are small, they cool down much more quickly than adults and can succumb to cold incapacitation much more rapidly. Drowning can take seconds. How would you feel if you watched that from the bank? Unable to get to them quickly enough because you’re not used to the cold or able to swim out to them. And don’t get me started on whether they’re out of their depth or not………….I’ll come to that and what else lurks beneath on another blog.
In the meantime, enjoy the warm weather, enjoy a cool dip if you fancy it but please be mindful of the cold.