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Christmas Swims Must Be Different This Year - Water Safety

9th December 2020
Christmas Swims Must Be Different This Year - Water Safety

This Christmas is very different from all our other Christmases we have experienced and thousands of people around the country who will want to immerse themselves in our invigorating waters must demonstrate compliance with our NPHET guidelines says John Leech of Water Safety Ireland.

We advise Charity Fundraising Organisers to ensure that only small groups of swimmers descend upon our favourite swimming locations at any one time and that their events be spread out over the holiday period to ensure we do not have any breaches of the NPHET Guidelines. We simply cannot have large groupings of well-meaning charity supporters converging at our favourite bathing places. Swim at known safe bathing places where there is public rescue equipment available should a swimmer get in to difficulty.

Our country has seen an explosion in the number of people involved in open water swimming since the arrival of COVID-19 and on the whole people have been compliant in terms of adhering to social distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene. Christmas swims have grown in popularity in recent years as it is a very sociable experience as well as raising much-needed funds for charities.

Charity swimmers occasionally take chances beyond what is acceptably safe, finding themselves left without sufficient strength to climb out of the water due to the cold. Cold winter waters cause “cold shock” and hypothermia can set in within a short period, especially if there is a high wind chill factor, this can overwhelm the fittest of swimmers. Immediately before the swim, people should throw cold water on themselves and always ease into the water slowly introducing your body to the low temperature. If you see a person in difficulty, do not attempt a rescue for which you are not trained. Make use of nearby public rescue equipment such as a ringbuoy.

Charity Swim guidelines:

  • People organising these swims on Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day or New Year’s Day must ensure full compliance with NPHET Guidelines and that they provide comprehensive details of each event to the Irish Coast Guard and local Gardaí in advance of their event.
  • Each event should have a Safety Officer appointed, who will advise those concerned on safety and have the ultimate responsibility for making decisions in relation to the swim being on or off on the day.
  • If the seas are rough and weather deteriorates, they should defer the event to a more suitable day without question – if in doubt do not take a chance on running the event.
    Many participants will not have swum since the summer and the temperature of the water has now dropped considerably. It is a fallacy that alcohol will keep you warm when entering the water; in fact, it has the reverse effect and could kill you. No alcohol should be taken before or after the swim.
  • Please use our Open Water Safety Leaflet to prepare for your swim here
  • Cold water can cause cold shock and hypothermia in minutes because the temperature of the water at this time of year may be below 6° Celsius in Fresh Water and 10° Celsius in Seawater.
  • Ensure that you have safe access and egress with appropriate shallow shelving beaches, steps, slipway or ladders as appropriate. People should be mindful that steps leading into the water might be dangerous due to the increased growth of algae in wintertime. Organisers must ensure that they have had the access and egress cleaned in advance of the swim to avoid slips and falls.
  • Fancy dress outfits can seriously impair your ability to float – please do not wear when swimming.
  • Swimmers’ remaining in the water for extended periods in a gesture of bravado is not acceptable and leads to hypothermia. Our message is “Get In, Get Out and Warm Up”.
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