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Dangers Of Cold Water Swimming

   December 8th, 2020   Posted In: Articles  

Dangers Of Cold Water Swimming

Swimming and other water activities are great exercises that help you stay in shape from your head to your toes. When done correctly, swimming can exercise up to 48 muscles in your body. It’s a true full-body workout which is why many people want to swim year-round no matter the temperature of the air or water.

Kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, boating, and white water rafting are all very popular water activities that most want to do year-round. Some may disregard the temperature of water to enjoy these activities.

Swimming in cold water dangers includes hypothermia, shock, and loss of muscle control which can lead to drowning as well as health issues.


Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold-weather conditions or cold water.

Cold Water Shock

Cold water drains body heat up to 25 times faster than cold air. When cold water makes contact with your skin, the cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control. This dramatically increases the risk of sudden drowning even if the water is calm and you know how to swim. The danger is even greater if the water is rough. Immersion in cold water is immediately life-threatening for anyone not wearing thermal protection, like a wetsuit or drysuit, and not wearing a life jacket.

Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow. Heart rate is also increased. As a result, the heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

More on Dangers of Cold Water Swimming

Cold water can be found anywhere and warm weather conditions can be deceiving. Water temperatures can remain chilly while air temperatures are warm. Warm air can give swimmers a false sense of security regarding the water temperature. It is best to be prepared when going swimming, kayaking, surfing, or paddle-boarding.

Cold Water Safety

Water doesn’t have to be extremely cold to cause hypothermia. Any water that’s colder than normal body temperature causes heat loss. The following tips may increase your survival time in cold water if you accidentally fall in:

  • Wear a wetsuit. A wetsuit is designed to provide the wearer with a layer of fabric, usually neoprene, between themselves and the cold water. Wetsuits are not designed to keep the wearer’s body completely dry but are meant to provide a layer of warmth.
  • Wear a life jacket. If you plan to ride in a watercraft, wear a life jacket. A life jacket can help you stay alive longer in cold water by enabling you to float without using energy and by providing some insulation. Keep a whistle attached to your life jacket to signal for help.
  • Get out of the water if possible. Get out of the water as much as possible, such as climbing onto a capsized boat or grabbing onto a floating object.
  • Don’t attempt to swim unless you’re close to safety. Unless a boat, another person, or a life jacket is close by, stay put. Swimming will use up energy and may shorten survival time.
Why a wetsuit is the best prevention for the dangers of cold water

Wetsuits help maintain body temperature and add a protective layer to your skin. Despite the cold water, your body temperature with wetsuits will be higher than it is without a wetsuit. The protective layer of neoprene allows you to freely enjoy your water activity without the fear of hypothermia or cold water shock.

Many water athletes like to stay active with the sport year-round, even when temperatures drop in both air and water. Wetsuits make paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, and boating in cold temperatures a more pleasant experience by providing a barrier between yourself and the water, giving a layer of warmth and added protection for the skin.

In conclusion, wetsuits are a great addition to anyone who enjoys the activities on the water. The wet suits keep your body temperature warm in colder climates to allow you to enjoy the fun you have out on the water.

dangers of cold water swimming

Lauren Belt

Merchandiser at Wetsuit Wearhouse
Lauren (LoLo) has been picking out the latest and greatest wetsuits and being the social media queen for Wetsuit Wearhouse since 2014. She learned to surf for the first time ever in Costa Rica but she gravitates more towards SUP. When she's not scouring the web for travel deals, you can find her either hiking, running, practicing yoga, studying holistic nutrition or reading a good book outside on a beautiful day.

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  • Avatar Mike Arthur says:

    I use a 3mm wetsuit for sea kayaking starting in April. Average seawater temp is 2.7 C. is there an estimate for survival time in the water with the wetsuit on compared to bare skin? wondering if I should get a 5mm wetsuit?

    Thanks. Mike

    • Elizabeth Werdnik Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Mike! According to wetsuit manufacturer temp ratings you should be wearing at least a 5mm wetsuit in water that cold, but because of the extensive risks with cold water sports I cannot recommend that to ensure your safety. Based on the average temperatures you describe, you might also a good candidate for a drysuit. We don’t stock any, but I recommend checking out NRS’s awesome selection designed with kayaking and paddle sports in mind. Hope this helps!

  • Avatar Brandon Forest says:

    I agree with you assessment. There are three things people need to be able to survive swimming in the ocean. 1) Training, 2) Experiene, 3) Conditioning.

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