Locked out of your pool? Are you thinking about starting wild swimming?

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In England, we have a new national lockdown. For swimmers, pools (indoors and out) and open water venues have to close. However, in contrast to the first lockdown that started in March 2020, swimming is specifically included in the list of permitted forms of exercise. The guidance says:

“You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with 1 person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming.”

While swimming wasn’t explicitly banned during the first lockdown, its exclusion from the list of example exercises left some people and organisations to conclude that it was. This time, there is no doubt. Wild swimming is allowed – but is this a good time to start? I’m not so sure.

Firstly, the options are limited and you can only exercise locally. You could swim in the sea, if you live close enough, but unlike in the summer, beaches are not lifeguarded in winter. You could swim in rivers or lakes, subject to legally being able to access them. But rivers are often faster flowing in winter, which makes them more hazardous for the unwary, and all open water in the UK is approaching the coldest temperatures they reach in the year. The Thames is currently less than 5 degrees. If you haven’t acclimatised through autumn, it would be challenging to start swimming outdoors now. Even if you put on a wetsuit, booties and gloves, you can still get cold water shock, which can be fatal to the unwary. If you were to start winter swimming at this time of year, we would recommend going to an unheated lido or a supervised venue and taking guidance from experienced swimmers. These options aren’t available at the moment.

I understand the need to swim. In a recent survey we carried out, more than 70% of people who responded said outdoor swimming was very important or essential to their general sense of well-being. I also love swimming and want to encourage as many people as possible to swim outside. However, right now, I'd urge patience and prudence. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Things will get better and restrictions will ease. The water will get warmer. Lifeguarded venues will open again.

Only swim outside now if:

  • You are accustomed to swimming in cold water
  • You have access to a safe, legal, local swimming spot
  • You can follow all covid-regulations and guidelines
  • You are capable of doing your own risk assessment and minimising the chance you need medical assistance
  • You have someone to swim with or who will watch you swimming

Alternatively, enjoy a vicarious swimming experience with the January issue Outdoor Swimmer magazine.

We have plenty of guidance on cold water swimming on our website for when it’s appropriate to start.

And here are some suggestions on keeping motivated at the moment.

01 Cover July 21

Issue 51 July 2021

  • Linford Christie on his new interest in outdoor swimming and the secrets behind his success
  • The Icebreakers, a group using cold water swimming to support men's mental health
  • Triple-amputee and former Royal Marine Mark Ormrod on completing a 1km sea swim and inspiring others
  • James Pittar, the first blind swimmer to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
  • The frontline workers finding solace in outdoor swimming France’s hidden wild swim spots
  • The revolution in women’s swimwear

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