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Outdoor Swimming

28 Dec 2022

Taking a dook or dip in the waters that surround Edinburgh has long been a New Year's Day tradition. However, outdoor swimming, especially after a night out for Hogmanay, comes with its own risks.

The Outdoor Swimming Society have provided some handy advice for anyone wishing to swim, dook or take a dip over the festive period. 


  • Do ensure you are warm before the swim. Remove your warm clothing at the last minute (and especially your shoes – you lose lots of heat into the ground).
  • Do go in feet first not head first – you will involuntarily gasp when your body hits the water, and you don’t want to be under it when this happens.
  • Do take special care to have your breathing under control before immersing your shoulders or swimming. The gasp reflex is involuntary and occurs with a significant rise in heart rate. Both the gasp reflex and hyperventilation can result in you aspirating water (breathing it into your lungs). This can lead to panic and drowning. Some people like to stand waist deep, put their hands under the water, splash a little water on their cheeks, and wait for breathing to normalise. Others like to focus on the exhale, puffing air out, as they regularise their breathing.
  • Do take care when entering the sea, especially during the first few minutes of gasping and shock.
  • Do have low expectations of how long you’ll be in for or how far you’ll go – many winter swimmers count strokes (10, for example) and swim just 25 metres or less.
  • Do dry off and put on layers to keep you warm quickly. You may feel deceptively warm at this point, it’s 10 minutes after exit that you’re at your coldest, so you want to wrapped up and warming up by then.
  • Do take more clothes for afterwards than  before – a hat, gloves, warm socks/boots and windproof layer if it’s exposed are all likely to be appreciated.
  • Do have a warm drink and some cake for afterwards (this is one time when a sugar boost is a good thing!).
  • Do warm up slowly, do some gentle walking if you feel okay. Increase the level of activity gradually if you wish, but stop if you feel unwell and sit down.
  • Do consider doing a few acclimatising dips in the days and weeks prior to the dip. Acclimatisation reduces the physiological effects of the first seconds to minutes of entering cold water, and undertaken quietly and safely in your local lido or with other winter swimmers mean you’ll know what you’re in for in quieter conditions.


  • Don’t take part if you have a fever.
  • Don’t take part if you have a chest infection.
  • Don’t jump or dive into deep water unless you know what you’re doing and are acclimatised to that level of cold.
  • Don’t take part if you’ve been drinking alcohol, have a hangover, or have taken recreational drugs. These will affect your judgement (about the length of time you can stay in the water for example), and also your body’s ability to withstand the cold.
  • Don’t stay in too long – as soon as you feel comfortably warm in the water it’s time to leave!
  • Don’t have a hot shower or enter a hot room till you are comfortable, and certainly not while shivering. It’s okay to sit in a warmish room. Hot baths and showers bring blood back to the freezing surface of your skin quickly, chilling your core. Better to warm up slowly from the inside out.

Please take responsibility for yourself & swim within your ability. Please read The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Swim Responsibility Statement & Survive section & assess risk every time you swim.

Content reproduced with kind permission from The Outdoor Swimming Society