Respect the Ocean: Know the Cold

DCIM102GOPROGOPR7877.JPGWith pools and gyms closed athletes are looking to the outdoors and open water for training, health and well-being.  While looking for a remote trail does not present too many dangers venturing into remote, unknown and un-guarded open waters can become dangerous and even deadly in seconds.  The recent NOAA Wave Safe series covers a wide range of coastal hazards around the country and many of those hazards can be found to some degree in virtually any body of open water from submerged objects, currents, tides, cold water, dangerous waves and remote locations putting help dangerously far away.  The core principals in the series center on a philosophy, mindset and action that apply to any open water venture:

  1. Respect the Ocean / Open Water
  2. Stay Situationally Aware
  3. Take Ten – Protect Yourself to Save Others to you can live to be the hero

In upcoming posts we will dive into a broad range of open water challenges, dangers and opportunities, but now we want to help you chill safely. With a few extra items in your swim bag and skills in your repertoire you can insure your aquatic outings stay safe and positive..  Jumping into water below even 70 degrees can be dangerous, so take the timeIMG_2023 to arrive at the water prepared.  Finding someone who has been there before can make the experience safer and more fun.  After a few cold-water miles you may want to spend less time confined by walls and lanes while discovering a new passion for an activity that was never meant to just be limited as triathlon’s First Leg.

The Planning

  • Create a Bonding Experience – Swimming alone is never a good idea, and the harsher the conditions the more important swimming with a partner becomes.  Stay in familiar water and stay close while maintaining the recommended or required safe distances and group size from the CDC and State Governments.
  • Ask Questions – With closed pools and gyms desperation can push people to step TOO far outside their comfort, knowledge and safety box. Remember “Common Sense” is formed and refined from a collection of shared experiences.  Make sure the coach, friend, team leader or group follows accepted best practices that will keep you safe by asking a few questions before hitting the water:  Does the group have insurance? Is the swim taking place in a safe and approved body of water for swimming?  Do they have everyone sign in and track them in and out of the water? Do they have professional lifeguards overseeing the sessions at a ratio of at least 1/20?  Do they have basic first aid and rescue equipment on site?  Is the “Coach” getting in his own workout or his he supervising others?  Is there and emergency exit / action plan for getting back to safety? Is someone knowledgeable checking and monitoring the weather, tides and water conditions?
  • Pick a Day with Sun – Even if the air is 50 a little bit of sun and a place out of the wind will make the pre and post swim minutes much more comfortable.
  • Start Gently – Lewis Pugh’s first swim was not in the Antarctic and yours should not be either.  You can find links to water temperatures and marine weather conditions on the Ocean City Swim Club home page at  For your first outing look for water temperatures in the upper 50’s to 60’s which this season could get you in some waters by late March.
  • Don’t Go Long – Get out BEFORE you get cold and add time slowly while always recognizing that weather can combine with water temperatures to make some days far more challenging than others.
  • Know NOAA Before You Go – For weather and water conditions as well as updates on rip current risks for shore locations visit the NOAA National Weather Service sites to know whether or not you should go and what conditions will be like beyond the shore.
  • Stay Wave Safe – Check out the NOAA Ocean Today “Wave Safe” series and be sure to watch the Pacific Northwest region that specifically talks about cold water and remote beaches.

The Plunge

  • They Call It “Shock” for a Reason – The hardest part is always the first minute.  When your body hits the cold your heart and breathing are going to jump into overdrive.  The key is to stay calm, keep your head above water and breathe.  Embrace the sensations and relax.  The sooner you can start swimming the better you will start feeling.  You are going to feel cold, but your body will stabilize.  As you log more sessions in the cold you will get better at moving from shock to jock.
  • Too Much of a Good Thing – Get out before you start to feel cold.  Whether your time in is ten minutes or ten hours start slowly.  If you are shivering or loosing the ability to control your fingers get out.  Everyone can learn to tolerate the cold better than they think, but the adaptation process is different for everyone.
  • Protect Yourself – Start off with a full wetsuit.  As your cold tolerance improves you can go with less.  If you look around the Dolphin Club you will find much of the following gear in both the new and seasoned swimmer’s bag:
    • Neoprene Cap – You lose much of your heat through your head, so “Double cap” or better yet use a 3mm neoprene hood under a brighter colored swim cap.  {To stay local check out}
    • Ear Plugs – Keeping a little cold water out of your ears can make a huge difference.  Mack’s Earplugs are a favorite from anyP1000855 local drug store.
    • Professional Lifeguard Rescue Can –Universally recognized professional rescue devices are held to a higher standard than the tow buoys you see more often.  At least one member in the group and preferably the coach should have a professional rescue can.  These are available at Swim Outlet under lifeguard supplies.
    • Bright Colors – Use bright colored swim caps, tow buoys and even wetsuits.  Check out Orca’s new smart wetsuit designed to keep you safe and let others know who you are if something happens.
    • Thermometer – Yes this helps with bragging rights, but more importantly it gives an objective measurement of what you are entering.  Plan your time in the water based on your current level of cold tolerance and adaptation.
    • Watch – Know how long you have been out before hypothermia tells you it has been too long.

The Parking Lot

  • Reverse “Warm-up” – Get out of the water, get outWedding-1-1-07034 of the weather and get dry.  Do NOT get straight into a hot shower or sauna.  This switch in extremes impacts blood vessels and heat retention at the skin and can cause a dangerous after drop of body temperature.  Warm up by getting dry and protected from the cold first then move towards the shower or sauna.  Warm beverages will also help your body absorb some much-needed heat.  Expect to move a little slower on land, so have everything laid out and waiting for you.
  • It’s Not Over Yet – Your body temperature will continue to drop even after you get out of the water as colder skin draws heat from your core.  Stay dry and get into a warm environment until your body gets back into balance.
  • Re-Fuel – Getting calories in your body immediately after a workout is always important.  A short colder water swim can feel like a much longer workout, so make sure you have food ready to devour.

Whether you go wetsuit or non-wetsuit, whether you cross the English Channel or the local lake don’t think you have to always come in from the cold.  And think about it, when was the last time any of us saw a polar bear or a triathlete that could stop with just a plunge.

Hypothermia:  Know the Signs and What to Do

One cold-water swimmer’s take on temps

  • 80+ Don’t get dehydrated
  • 65+ Ahhhhhhhhh
  • 60 – 65 Comfortable for a day in the water, literally
  • 55 – 60 A little burning that passes with a couple hundred yards
  • 50 – 55 A little more burning that never quite goes away
  • 45 – 50 Time in the water is limited, and a warm-up exit plan is critical
  • 40 – 45 It’s going to hurt.  Get in, get out and get warm.
  • Below 40 You know that bucket of ice the beer was in over the summer?


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