The increasing popularity of open water swimming and cold water therapy sees people taking to the lochs within the Loch Lomond National Park in all seasons.
Following water safety advice is essential during the winter months when areas are quieter and temperatures lower.
Some of that starts before you even leave the house. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma or any condition that might raise your own risks, you should consult your doctor before taking the plunge.
If you’re good to go, make plans to swim with a friend or a group. You should never go into the water alone.
Swimming or immersing yourself in a loch is very different to doing so in the sea. The water in lochs can change depth suddenly and unexpectedly, sometimes very close to shore with steep drops.
So it’s best to stick to places you already know or find out as much as you can about an area before you get in the water. If you can’t swim or are not an experienced swimmer then don’t paddle far from the shore and if you do get into trouble, float on your back and try not to panic.
Being visible in the water is really important. A bright hat helps, as do swim safety devices – these are brightly coloured inflatable bags which you can tow behind you whilst swimming.
Once you’re kitted out and ready to go into the water, what’s the best way to do it? Slowly, in a controlled way. Allow your body to get used to the cold. Cold water shock can set in quickly and rapidly lead to hypothermia.
Winter dips tend to be fairly short and how long you stay in will vary from day to day. So start out with small dips.
What you do when you get out the water is just as important as what you do when you’re in there. You will be at your coldest 10 minutes after you get out. The best way to see yourself through the ‘afterdrop’, when blood returns to the skin and cools you down, is to change immediately. Dry yourself off (pat, don’t rub), add lots of warm layers, and have a warm drink. Don’t drive until you’ve warmed up.
Finally, remember when you leave a body of water to follow Check, Clean and Dry guidance to avoid unwittingly transporting aquatic plants and animals into a new environment via your equipment or wetsuit.
Invasive non-native species are one of the key threats to nature in places such as the National Park. So clean and wash all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly, then make sure you dry them (some species can live for many days in damp conditions).
By being prepared and aware of advice on how to keep yourself safe, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy the benefits of outdoor swimming all year round.
For more on cold shock, cold incapacitation, hypothermia and wild swim groups, see www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com