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Cold Water Swimming Fact Sheet

Swimming in cold water should always be approached with care. 
Swimming in cold water puts additional pressure on the cardiovascular systems. 

• If you have any known medical conditions or a family history of cardiovascular conditions OR if you have previously experienced difficulties after swimming in cold water, refer to your GP before participating 

• When you are cold your thinking and mobility are impaired. 

• Always check that you know where and how to exit before entering the water 

• When you first get into cold water you will experience the cold shock response – initial gasp, rapid breathing, increase heart rate and blood pressure. During this time it is difficult to coordinate swimming and breathing. 

• Always acclimatise to the water temperature before attempting to swim. 

• Keep your head above water as you acclimatise. 

NOTE: Wetsuits do not remove the cold shock response as they fill with water when you get in. The benefit kicks in when the layer of water trapped between the skin and the wetsuit warms up. Going in to very cold water (typically less than 10C) can cause numbness and pain, particularly in the extremities such as the hands and feet. Neoprene socks and gloves can help protect your hands and feet. 

• As you get colder you can experience mental confusion, slurred speech and poor movement coordination. 

• Never set time goals for staying in the water. Get out if you are not comfortable. 

• Always follow the instructions of the safety team and get out if they ask you to – they have your best interests at heart. 

• When you get out of the water you continue to cool for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. 

Re-warming takes time. 

• Be prepared for re-warming: please be in a dry robe before and after, bring dry, warm clothes including a hat, gloves, and thick socks, bring a warm drink and please also bring a hot water bottle. 

• Re-warm gradually – don’t worry if you shiver, shivering is good. 

• Do not jump into a hot shower or bath. 

• Do not attempt to drive or ride a bike until you have re-warmed. If you need to leave before you have re-warmed bring a non-swimming supporter who can give you a lift.

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