Brendon Prince: ICEBERGS guide to help keep cold water swimmers safe
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Brendon Prince, founder of the water safety charity Above Water, writes for the Torbay Weekly
Open water swimming has become hugely popular in recent months but those taking part need to be aware of the dangers.
The Coastguard is reporting a 52 per cent increase in incidents relating to swimming in the last four months.
Among the many reasons for this are new swimmers who have taken up the pursuit - and this is their first winter of cold water swimming.
The effects of cold water on the body can be disguised. It is sudden and can be catastrophic.
To help the swimmers of Torbay and beyond this winter, I suggest they look at the ICEBERGS acronym.
Designed by the water safety charity Above Water, these points will help guide your next cold water swimming experience:
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I.C.E.B.E.R.G.S - IMPACT, CONDITIONS, ENVIRONMENT, BUDDY, EQUIPMENT, RESCUE, GAME PLAN and SKILL.
• never swim under the impact of alcohol or drugs
• swimming has a big positive impact on your body but it can take time to warm up after a swim, driving or handling machinery should not happen until body is back to its normal state
Safety tip - when you get out of the water, be quick to get into your clothes, hat, shoes. You will naturally feel colder once out of the water and getting snuggly with a warm drink will help.
• check the quality of the water you plan to swim in; blue flag beach will reassure you of the water quality. Don’t enter the water if it looks or smells polluted. If water quality is suspect take extra precaution by covering cuts and grazes with water proof plasters and wash your hands when you exit the water and before you eat
• always acclimatise to the conditions before you start swimming. Never just jump in! Cold water shock must be respected so start slow and finish fast.
Safety tip - acclimatise your body by standing in water up to your knees and splashing the cold water over your head and neck, then slowly immerse the rest of your body. The shock of cold water is one of the biggest shocks you can ever give your body. As a result, it can take a minute or so for your breathing and heart rate to regulate before you start swimming.
• understand the environment you are about to swim in. If it’s your first-time swim in an area, ask a friend, local or lifeguard for advice
• check out the beach signage for basic information. The basics should include tide times, currents, obstacles and any marine traffic
• check the weather, especially wind, for the duration of your swim. You want to concentrate on your swim so there should be no surprises.
Safety tip - lifeguarded beaches are a great place to swim, especially for beginners but make sure you check patrol times. Most patrols start at 10am and finish at 6pm.
• swim with a buddy and if you are swimming out of your depth have a buddy spotter on the beach. If you get into trouble your buddy on the water can support you whilst your buddy on the beach gets help
• if you do get into trouble signal for help by waving one full arm out of the water from side to side (dial 999 and ask for the coastguard in an emergency).
Safety tip - always use a swim buoy, they make it easier for your buddy on the beach, or anyone else, to see you, you can use it for buoyancy if you get into trouble and they are a great place to store your phone for extra security.
• wear a brightly coloured hat so you will be seen by all marine traffic. Hi-vis orange or green is best.
• a good pair of clear, water tight goggles that fit you - nothing worse than having to fiddle with your goggles when you just want to swim
• wear a costume that suits your ability and conditions. Remember that wetsuits not only help you stay warm but they also give you extra buoyancy. Skins swimming is great for the soul but if you are not used to swimming in skins, start off in shallow water and get your body used to the temperature over time. Cold water swimming in skins requires many swims to get your body conditioned, building understanding of how long your body can swim, until the cold water become prohibitive. If swimming in skins in warm conditions, don’t forget the water resistant sun protection.
• hand paddles/fins are both very useful bits of kit but be careful not to be overly confident when using them. If the conditions are prohibitive to safe swimming, don’t swim, even if you think a set of fins or paddles will help
• use a swim buoy. Normally attached to your waist, this brightly coloured air bag is very visible and durable. Can be used for buoyancy if you need a rest and provides a very handy water tight pocket for your phone (dial 999 and ask for the coastguard in an emergency) and your car keys
• footwear can help to keep your feet warm and help to prevent slips when entering and exiting the water.
Safety tip - lay out your towel and warm clothes for ease when you exit the water, unravelling socks or inside out jumpers is no fun when you are cold and wet.
• always have a personal rescue route. This should be a direct route out of the water and on to dry land in the event of an emergency. If you are swimming where this is not possible, for example around a rocky headland, then either choose another area or get a support boat to travel with you. Be cautious about using a kayak for support, if you get into trouble a kayak cannot pull you out of the water or carry you back to shore
• if in trouble, float on your back while your buddy in the water or on the beach calls 999 Coastguard if at the beach or 999 fire brigade if at inland waters
• always have a safe entry and exit point.
Safety tip - Take your time when exiting the water, your balance will take a little time to adjust to being upright again.
• what is your swim game plan? Where are you swimming? What distance? How long do you plan to be in the water? Set your plan and stick to it, too many swim accidents occur when the swimmer changes course or distance mid swim, unless in an emergency
• tell a friend or family member your swim game plan including expected timings
• if you are swimming a considerable distance or time, inform the coastguard/ local harbour authority of your plan.
Safety tip - swimming parallel to the beach is much safer than swimming out into the deep!
• what is your open water sea swim skill level? This is based on open water not your pool experience. This should factor in the distance, temperature, time, conditions you are comfortable and confident to swim in
• look at the conditions and allow for any changes, do they match your swim skill level?
Safety tip - if you join a local surf life saving/ open water swim group or equivalent they will help build your skills and local environmental knowledge.
For further information regarding water safety, please check the website www.abovewater.org