Sea Swimming – Excited to Try? Here’s How To Start

Gemma finishing swimming in the sea and waving on the beach

Hi, I’m Gemma Adams, a swimming teacher living in sunny Falmouth on the south coast of Cornwall with my family. Swimming has always been a part of my life. I have been swimming in the sea on an all-round yearly basis for around the last six years. I find I only have the ability to switch off and to fully connect with my surroundings when I swim. It provides me stress relief, joy, excitement and is something that I will always (if I can) do. 

In October last year I set up a sea swimming group for women called ‘She Swims Falmouth’. This has turned into an amazing tribe of women; some experienced swimmers with years under their swim hat, some yet to dip their toes. Over a short period it has organically grown into its own flourishing little community. My aim is to try to help and encourage others to access the sea. In doing to, they too can improve their physical and mental health and well-being.

You might be interested in swimming in the great outdoors but don’t know where to start. If so, here are 5 of my top tips which I hope will help you. 

1. Where you can find general information and advice: 

Although sea swimming/cold water swimming has been happening for years and years, it is never advisable to swim alone especially without bit of ground work. There are numerous groups both on social media and in real life who all offer a breadth and wealth of information. Even if you’re not keen to join organised swims at present, these groups and pages can provide you with advice, both safety wise and swimming wise, if you’re new to the ‘sport’. 

Don’t be afraid to weigh in and join the groups. Take advantage of the knowledge that others have! It will help you increase your knowledge and you’ll also be communicating and mixing with a group of like-minded individuals – hopefully making some new friends too! So far, I’ve never met an outdoor swimmer that I don’t get on with! 

Gemma in neoprene sea swimming underwater

Weather and Conditions:

  • Get yourselves up-to-date with how different weather conditions affect your local beaches/where you plan to swim. There are lots of websites and apps that you can download to help you with this such as : 
    https://magicseaweed.com
  • The Windy App here

Online Courses:

  • There are also online courses available to help you to understand tides,  rip currents and cold water swimming safety advice such as
  • https://www.h2otraining.co.uk

For further reading, loads of free advice and in-depth articles all about outdoor swimming, look here at Outdoor Swimmer.

2. How to get started sea swimming

If you’re a fair-weather swimmer and you’re wanting to explore/introduce yourself to cold water swimming,  it’s best to keep dipping from September onwards. This will help your body acclimatise. Cold showers can help you acclimatise also. A quick 15/30 second blast at the end of your shower,  building the time up each day/week, to allow your body to feel the shock of the cold in a controlled manner, will help you feel more in control and help you regulate your breathing in cold water, ready for when you do take the plunge!

Gemma's feet sticking out of the sea on a sea swim

If you’re keen to fully embrace the benefits of cold water therapy, research Wim Hof. His breathing techniques and belief in the power of mind over body are influencing people all over the world. All those who want to reap the many benefits of cold water immersion. These benefits include reducing inflammation, speeding up metabolism and improving sleep. Studies also show cold water gives an improved immune response alongside the well-documented mental health benefits. 

To reduce the effects of cold water shock ( we suffer from cold water shock every time we go in cold water, we just learn how to regulate our response) don’t ever jump into cold water or put your head under straight away.  

Not wanting to scare, but a quick gasp at the wrong time in the water at could be fatal. Take your time, walk in slowly,  exhale, dip your hands and wash your face with the cold water before immersing.

3. Kit and Clothing for Sea Swimming

Get the right kit. This doesn’t mean you have to fork out lots of money upfront. You can read up on the basics that you might need. Again, talk to others about what they have/use that would help you. You don’t need to swim in ‘skins’ (bare skin/swimming costume) to be a sea swimmer – it’s not a competition. If you want to swim in a wetsuit all year round then that’s a-ok. There’s no such thing as being a ‘wimp’ in sea swimming, and getting in the water in any capacity will being you huge benefits.

For after swimming, there are loads of different robes which come in a variety of colours, materials. Some with eco credentials also. These robes are made to last, so although it can but seem a bit daunting to shell out on one at first, they are definitely worth the money if you are thinking of taking up outdoor swimming on a regular basis. 

Layering up after your swim is one of the most important things – be prepared for your body to keep dropping in temperature AFTER exit (research after drop)  and hypothermia is very real folks! It’s important not to outstay your welcome, get out before you feel cold and never compete with yourself or others. A brisk northerly wind will rapidly bring down your temperature,  so treat every swim as a different swim and judge accordingly. What you have drunk and eaten, how you slept the night before and hormones can all play a part in how our bodies respond to the water.  Leave so you go back wanting more.

Remember, anything under 15° is classed as cold water. In this country, we are lucky if it goes above that for a few weeks a year!  People can still suffer the effects of cold water even when it is warmest. Remember – practice, take it slowly and get to know your own body and limitations. 

5. Environmental factors when sea swimming

Woman facing away from camera walking in to the sea for a sea swim

Surfers Against Sewage have long been campaigning for cleaner water. They have recently successfully managed to push for water companies to provide real-time sewage data/alerts for water quality. This is provided all year round for over 350 beaches around the UK.  Check their app SaferSeas for more information on your local swim spot.

When you get ‘the wild swimming bug’ , you will find that you get an immense thrill out of swimming somewhere new or finding an undiscovered swimming spot but please remember to always leave no trace. 

Consider footfall if you’re wild swimming – if you’re in a quiet spot and if you get into difficulty, are you accessible ? Is it safe and responsible to swim there ? Is there any nature/wildlife about that really won’t benefit from humans encroaching on their environment? Trust your instincts and if you’re not sure if it’s a safe spot maybe do a bit more research and return again at another time. 

Keep Safe! Here are the RNLI’s top safety tips for sea swimming:

  • Never swim alone. The safest way to wild swim is at an Open Water swimming site, with a club or between the red and yellow flags on a lifeguarded beach. If you can’t get to a lifeguarded beach, learn more about your chosen location and check hazard signage by finding an organised swim group in your local community.  
  • Acclimatise to cold water slowly and enter gradually to reduce the risk of cold water shock. 
  • Check weather and tide times before you go, avoid swimming in dangerous conditions.
  • Take a means for calling for help in a waterproof phone pouch and have this on you at all times.
  • If you see someone in trouble, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard
  • Wear a brightly coloured hat plus a tow float for increased visibility.
  • Always swim parallel to the shore and not straight out. Cold water, waves and currents can tire you out quickly and make it harder to return to shore. 
  • Never swim under the influence of alcohol. 

And finally…you never regret a dip!

Cold water swimming,  outdoor swimming, open water swimming, sea swimming, whatever you want to call it, is the best!   I love the way that every swim is different – that’s what makes it exciting, special and all encompassing. ]You might be an early riser, stealthily sneaking out quietly to swim under the orange glow of the sunrise. Maybe you’re somebody who likes the sociable and community of swimming and the chitter chatter over après tea and cake. Or perhaps you are someone who enjoys front crawl swims and increasing endurance and stamina out in the big blue. Whichever you are, the wonderful thing is that the sea/open water is big enough for all of us. It welcomes us all if we treat it with care, love and respect. 

Happy and safe swimming all! 

Gemma 

Click here to watch the 30 second RNLI float to live video.

Click here to join the fabulous She Swims Falmouth Facebook group.

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