Guest Blog – Mark Enright – Swimming safety, hypothermia and wetsuit protection: A guide

Swimming in a pool means constant temperatures, lifeguards on duty and known depths. None of these apply to open water swimming. Open water contains new hazards that can be unnerving for the first time swimmer.

Currents and tides can be powerful and can switch suddenly in an unpredictable manner. Water depth can change quickly. Hazards may lie underneath the surface, imperceptible from above.

Here are some common problems experienced by beginners and some tips to ensure that your swimming is safe and trouble free.

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The first thing a beginner will experience will be just how much colder open water is than the average indoor pool. This difference can be shocking and can take a toll on both physical and mental ability. Because of this, acclimatization is important. Acclimating your body to cold is in no way a fun process. Taking cold baths will help your body to get used to the cold. Always bear in mind that deeper water is generally colder than shallow water.

 Make sure to research the body of water you will be swimming in beforehand. Talk to fellow swimmers and local people. Knowing where currents are strongest and the times that tides change will help make sure that you don’t get into difficulty.

 Don’t swim unsupervised. If you get into difficulty it is important to have someone there to help you. Someone on the shore, or in a boat next to you, will be able to warn you of hazards or changes in circumstance.

 Don’t be tempted to jump into water without checking the depth first. Not only will your body not be acclimatized to the temperature of the water, but there could be objects submerged beneath the surface.

 Know where you are getting out. Check the place you will be swimming to. After swimming a long distance you will be tired. The last thing you want is to find out that your exit point is unsuitable because you didn’t do your research. Making a plan and sticking to it will help keep you safe and build your confidence


The cold is the biggest problem facing any open water swimmer. Hypothermia happens when the body drops two degrees below its usual temperature of 37°C.

Water is much more efficient at conducting heat away from the body than air is. This means that hypothermia can come on extremely quickly when swimming in colder water.

Hypothermia can be identified by its early signs: shivering, loss of feeling in extremities and loss of colour as blood is drawn to the body’s core.

The body’s responses to hypothermia take up energy and, as a result, make the condition worse over time as the body shuts down. Symptoms of advanced stage hypothermia can include violent shivering, confusion, hallucinations and unconsciousness.

A neoprene wetsuit works by allowing a thin layer of water to be trapped between the suit and the skin. This water then warms up, helping to keep the body warm in even the coldest seas, lakes or rivers.

 A wet suit’s efficacy depends on this thin layer of water being maintained and not replaced too quickly. This means that your wetsuit must be well fitted or it will not work.

 Wearing a well fitted wetsuit means that you can stay in cold water comfortably for longer. This will help you swim faster.

 Neoprene fabric is buoyant and thick. Treading water will be easier, and you will be given some protection from underwater hazards.  

 Do you know of any other information you think we’ve missed? Let us know!

 This post was written by Mark Enright, an avid swimmer and writer for <a href=”“>Secret Spot</a>, a retailer of high quality swimming and surfing equipment.


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