This is not a class or lesson, you set your own distance, pace and time in the water. I set up a 600-700m swim course in the no-boating zone and provide on-water support with a boardy or kayaker keeping an eye on you and the conditions around you.
The course will be a big square or triangle stretching from the shallows to the deep water around the yellow poles at Williamstown. You can swim the entire course any number of times or stick to the shallows.
When you get out there will be hot tea and watermelon. Please BYO snacks for a picnic. You can’t leave and drive away straight after getting out of the cool water. There are warm showers nearby.
Why would anyone want to swim in the cool water?
Because this is an amazing experience that will make you healthier, happier and smarter! Seriously. The cold water improves your circulation, your immune system, gets blood flowing through your brain and boosts your endorphin production and mood. This thing is addictive.
And it’s particularly good for you if you are at an age where you are saying things like “age doesn’t matter, it’s just a number” and “I’m young at heart.”
So this is the need-to-know information for our cold water swimming group:
1) Meet near carpark behind WSLSC by 8.45am 2) You can hire a wetsuit from me for $20 if you need one. 3) I also have booties, swim gloves and thermal caps. 4) Maximum swim time is 60 minutes at the moment because the water is 16 -17C and this time will be reduced to 45 minutes when the water is 12 -13 C. 5) For people not wearing a wetsuit, the maximum swim time is 45 minutes. 6) You can’t leave straight after swimming. You definitely can’t drive a car straight after swimming in cold water. 7) You can share my tea (BYO cup) and watermelon and/or bring some snacks for yourself or our picnic table. 8) Bring a warm towel (or two) or even a blanket, maybe a chair, but standing in the sun, or going for a run is the best way to get your body temp back towards normal. 9) I have thermal blankets if necessary, there are warm council showers if you feel like it. 10) You can tell your friends and family you have found a new healthy drug called cool water swimming, you’re getting addicted and you don’t need rehab….
Is cold water swimming healthy? Is swimming in the cold winter ocean safe or advisable? What water temperature is considered cold in cold water swimming?
Firstly, yes, swimming in the sea during winter can be healthy and safe and completely energising and revitalising. There is no doubt that cold or cool water immersion can assist with blood circulation and science says this is just the start of the benefits. Your mood will improve and your brain functions will improve as a result of more blood flowing through the head.
But, and there is a big but, you need to know some of the basics before jumping in. And you probably won’t be jumping in anyway, more like a slow walk at best.
That’s because cold water swimming done wrong can be risky and dangerous to your long term health.
Is cold water dangerous?
Cold water swimming comes with risk. Here are the major ones:
Cold water shock – When you first get in the water, you will feel the shock of the cold, especially on your head, hands and feet. The terms “Ice cream headache” and “Brainfreeze” will have new meaning for you. Your breathing will be constrained and you need to focus on your exhale to calm down. Cold water shock can lead to panic attacks requiring assistance or rescue. Enter water slowly with hands in the water. Don’t submerge your head in the cold water until you feel ready.
Hypothermia – the big one. Hypothermia is when your body’s core temperature falls below 35C. This can lead to unconsciousness, organ damage, organ failure and cardiac arrest. You may not realise you have hypothermia or how low your temperature has fallen because your brain and body is not functioning efficiently. Never swim alone, never swim when you are shivering and never swim too long.
Swim slow down – Cold water swimming causes your body to restrict blood flow to the arms and legs. This slows down your movements but you may not realise it. Eventually you can no longer swim properly. Don’t stay in the water if you are at all struggling or slowing down.
After-chill – When you get out, the cold blood in your arms and legs begins to circulate again, lowering the core body temperature. You may feel colder ten minutes after your swim than during your swim. Warm tea – to warm up your core from the inside and warm clothes as soon as possible is the best solution. A steaming hot shower straight from the cold sea is less effective and not very beneficial.
How to swim in winter / How to swim in cold water.
First – yes do it you will enjoy it. No one ever regretted a (safe) swim. Be prepared though if you want the benefits, not the injuries.
There is nothing enjoyable, smart, healthy or tough about swimming for long periods alone, far from shore in very cold winter water with just speedos to protect your modesty.
You can get hypothermia from swimming for long periods in relatively warm water – into the mid 20s degrees Celsius, so winter water needs to be respected.
First a wetsuit, gloves, boots, cap (or two) is the best way to protect yourself from the cold while swimming in winter. But even all this neoprene will not protect you from Hypothermia and all the associated risks after about an hour.
Second – Swim in a group, never alone, don’t stray far from shore and shorten your swim for winter.
Third: A thermos of hot tea is your best friend.
Fourth: A run along the sand before or after your swim can help keep you warmer or warm back up.
How long should I stay in the cold water?
Lifesaving Victoria say if you are in cold water for more than one hour, you almost certainly have hypothermia and are at risk of black out. Limit cold water swimming to less than one hour in winter when water temperatures are low.
If you have low body fat, you will want to be getting out of cold water after about 45 minutes, depending on the temperature.
What temperature is “Cold Water Swimming?”
Cold Water swimming is a general term but there are guidelines and health and safety regulations around cold water swimming events. Swimming Australia, FINA, triathlon organisations all have rules for cold water swimming based on health advice. All too often these rules get developed after a tragedy or many, so let’s find out more:
Cold water swimming temperatures in centigrade/Celsius:
Mid 20s degrees: warm enough for everyone
22C: Warm in Victoria, but a bit nippy for northerners from NSW and Queensland!
20C: You might like a wetsuit for long swims.
18C: Time for a wetsuit. FINA and Swimming Australia say wetsuits (not swim suits) are mandatory in OWS events under 18 degrees.
16C: FINA and Swimming Australia rules say no event can be held in water under 16 degrees.
15.5C: Swimmers who want to qualify for an English Channel attempt must swim for two hours, without wetsuit in water that is 15.5C or less. This is really cold and you will need time to recover from swimming in water of this temperature. You can’t leave the water and expect to be able to drive a car, for example.
10C: This is cold. Limit swims to well under one hour and do not attempt without a wetsuit at very least.
8C: Do not enter the water for more than a very short period of time – max 30 minutes – for the most experienced swimmers.
5C: This is called Ice swimming. Please seek medical and psychiatric advice.
Open water swimming is a rapidly growing sport and Williamstown Beach is the home of Victoria’s biggest open water swimming program.
Thousands of swimmers enjoy our beautiful beach, abundant sea life and and marine sanctuary each year. Williamstown Swimming and Lifesaving Club host the Victorian Open Water Championships each December and the WOW Challenge public participation swim festival.
Every Saturday morning and Wednesday evening after work (during daylight savings) there is a free swimming group and swim coaching classes.
A swim from Williamstown Beach, out across the deep blue water to Altona Beach … and back? That’s 7.6km of swimming in the sea.
Are you crazy??
That’s what I first thought when the idea was put to me. I’m the guy squatting at bottom left of the picture above.
In the pic above are some very good swimmers. And then there’s me.
From the left, Freya is in the pink cap is super fit and so is Adam next to her. Vince at the back accompanied us on a Rescue Board. Grant, the muscleman at front & centre is an English Channel swimmer. Behind Grant is Faris and Simon (yellow cap). These two are talented freestylers who never stop, just like Joanie on the right.
In this pic (below) is the approximate course we take to Altona from Williamstown SLSC.
Leaving from the beach, we turn right at the end of the rock groyne and swim over “the Crystals.” This area is alive with plants, animals and every colour, but watch out for spiny urchins and sharp, slippery rocks.
I thought I would stop at Altona Dog Beach and get a lift back with Mike, who kindly drove my towel and drink over. But everyone else was jumping back in to swim all the way back. I couldn’t be the only one stopping at halfway.
In the end I surprised myself and completed the 7.6km round trip. This was the first time I had ever completed a big swim out in the sea. My trip to Altona and back really opened my eyes up to a great experience.
I’ve been swimming in the sea every week since my trip to Altona, two years ago.