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  • Writer's pictureMatt Parsons

Embracing the Chill: A Guide to Safe Cold Water Swimming

We know the enjoyment of our beautiful bays and beaches doesn't end when the summer is over. On any given day, beach walkers, surfers, and beach drivers can be found enjoying the beauty of our local waters. Now, there is another way locals are enjoying the winter—cold water swimming.  My wife and I have been cold-water enthusiasts for over two years. So we'd like to offer these tips for safe cold-water swimming.

Our favorite place is the bay side of Road I in Hampton Bays. It's better when the tide is high otherwise you are walking a long way just to get knee deep. My wife recently added the end of Bay Avenue in East Quogue to the rotation for its proximity to our home and shorter distance from the car to the water. Occasionally we will go in at Tiana Beach but because the ocean can be less predictable, even as a former lifeguard, we'll often opt for the bay side.

Cold-water swimming is a fun and refreshing way to connect with nature and each other. Beforehand, I often wonder why I allow my wife to drag me along, but when we come out exhilarated and clear-headed, I remembered why I like it so much. While many sites claim all sorts of health benefits, I am not offering medical advice or making any claims, just some tips for those thinking about trying it and wanting to be prepared. As more individuals venture into this winter activity, it becomes essential to prioritize safety. 

Safety Steps for Cold Water Swimming:

  1. Don't Jump In Head First: Balance the excitement of cold water swimming with caution. Jumping in headfirst poses a risk of cold water shock. The sudden immersion in icy water can lead to gasping, hyperventilation, and even cardiac arrest. Enter the water gradually, allowing your body to adjust to the temperature. 

  2. Breathe: Deep and controlled breathing is crucial for managing the shock to your system. Before entering the water and while swimming, take long, deep breaths to help regulate your heart rate and oxygenate your body.

  3. Acclimate Gradually: Give your body time to acclimate to the cold water. Start with short dips and gradually extend your time in the water as your tolerance increases. This gradual approach minimizes the risk of hypothermia and other cold-related conditions. I wear my dive boots to keep my feet warmer. If you have dive gloves or even a hood, those can be useful if you plan on staying in a little longer.

  4. Dry Off and Warm Up Immediately: Once you exit the water, prioritize getting dry and warm promptly. Change out of wet clothes as soon as possible to prevent heat loss. Dry your head thoroughly and wear a hat to conserve body heat. My wife has a towel poncho that works great for changing under right on the beach blanket.

  5. Stay Hydrated: After the chilly plunge, it's essential to replenish your body's warmth from the inside. Enjoy a warm beverage to help raise your core temperature and provide comfort.

  6. Don't Swim Alone or in Unsafe Conditions: Safety is paramount in cold water swimming. It's best to venture into icy waters with others. Skip locations with rough conditions. Opt for calmer waters like the bay. Always inform someone of your plans, including where and when you expect to return.

  7. Have Fun: While safety is a priority, remember to enjoy the experience. Cold water swimming can be thrilling, so embrace the chill and have fun while prioritizing your well-being.

You can ensure a memorable and safe experience by following these safety steps. So come on in, the water's fine.

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