Cold Water Swimming,  FEATURES,  SAFETY,  Top Tips

Top tips for festive dips

Christmas morning dips, New Year’s Day swims and loony dooks: a madcap dash into the sea is fast becoming a festive tradition. If you are tempted to join in this year, follow our top tips for safe festive swimming.

Turkey? Tick. Presents? Tick. Christmas tree? Tick. Madcap dash into the sea with hundreds of people? The charity cold water dip is fast becoming a festive tradition, with swims taking place on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day up and down the country.

A bracing dip is often touted as an efficient way to get rid of your Christmas or New Year hangover, but even if you are a seasoned cold water swimmer you should still be aware of the risks of a cold water dip.

Last year I took part in the Boxing Day swim at Redcar organised by the local Rotary Club. Hundreds of dippers, many in fancy dress, ran into the sea – screamed – then ran out again! That was all part of the fun. Thousands of pounds were raised for charity and the swimmers took to the water under the watchful eye of the local RNLI. But not all festive dips are so well organised or have safety cover so it pays to be prepared.

The advice we give for all cold water swimming remains the same, but you should take extra care if this is your only cold water swim of the year. Cold water shock is the main danger for unacclimatised swimmers. For more experienced cold water swimmers, be aware that running into water and throwing yourself into the sea is very different to a more traditional and considered entry. And at the season of excess, be mindful that swimming under the influence of alcohol is never a good idea – save the mulled wine for a post-swim warmer. Even cold water swimming while hungover also increases your risk of hypothermia. Follow our top tips for safe festive swimming so you can enjoy the rush of cold water dipping in (relative) comfort.

How to swim safely

  • If possible, acclimatise. A few dips before the big event will prepare you for the cold and make your swim more enjoyable.
  • Make sure you are wrapped up warm before the swim. And don’t get undressed until the last minute.
  • Wear the right kit. Wear a swimming hat, or two, to help preserve body heat. You can also wear neoprene gloves, booties and balaclava. If you are wearing fancy dress make sure it is suitable for swimming in!
  • Take care if running into the sea. A madcap dash into the sea isn’t so much fun if you twist your ankle.
  • Do not dive or jump in. Do not dive or jump in unless you are used to the cold water. Cold water can cause gasping of breath and cold water shock, which can be dangerous. Instead, immerse yourself slowly, remembering to breathe, and do not put your head under the water and start swimming until your breathing is under control.
  • Know your limits. In winter, even experienced swimmers often only swim for one or two minutes at a time. You might not feel cold until after you get out of the water, so be of aware of ‘after drop’ and do not stay in the water too long.
  • Warm up slowly. Do not have a hot shower. Hot water can cool your core and it can be dangerous. Instead, make sure you have plenty of warm clothes, wrap up well and have a hot drink.

Your post-swim kit checklist

  • Changing robe
  • Towel
  • Flip flops or Crocs
  • Woolly gloves
  • Woolly hat (or Santa hat!)
  • Layers, layers, layers (the best way to get warm after a cold swim)
  • Flask of hot drink
  • Cake

Read our Festive Dip List 2023.

Photo by @lizziecroxford; event @mad_hatter_sports

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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.