There’s a real sense of freedom you get when you go open water swimming, a feeling of being alive that you simply can’t achieve when you do laps in the local pool. 

But as invigorating as it can be to dip your toe in the wild waters, it’s important to remember that it is different to when you’re swimming poolside and it can be more dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Something you should be aware of is cold water shock, which is your body’s response to suddenly finding itself in cold water. It’s involuntary and there’s nothing that you can do about it, with the effects typically lasting up to three minutes. 

When you’re suddenly immersed in cold water, the blood vessels in the skin will close, which increases resistance to blood flow. This means that your heart has to work harder, which pushes your blood pressure up.

You’ll also experience a gasp response and a change in your breathing rate, which makes it hard for you to control your breathing… all of which can make you panic, inhale water and, in severe circumstances, even experience a cardiac arrest.

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to reduce the effects of cold water shock. Easing yourself into the water slowly can help, as can making sure you always wear well-fitting open water swim wetsuits.

As well as making sure that you have the appropriate swimming equipment, tips for staying safe while you swim include checking the conditions of the locale in which you’re swimming, being wary of the cold and making sure that you’ve told someone where you’re going and what you’re doing. 

Also make sure that you have a way of calling for help if necessary, particularly if you’re in a remote location. There’s no reason why open water swimming can’t be incredibly rewarding… as long as you keep yourself safe!

Tommy Reed