Irish Water Safety is concerned that many people planning to take part in sponsored Christmas and New Year swims may take chances beyond what is acceptably safe and are cautioning the public to minimize the length of time they remain in water due to the risk of hypothermia as water temperature is approximately 11° Celsius at sea and 5° Celsius in freshwater.
“Cold water immersion” and hypothermia can overwhelm the fittest of swimmers but steps can be taken to remain safe:
· Cold water cools muscles faster than during warmer summer swims and may cause an increased heart rate, dizziness, cramp and panic.
· Take great care walking down slipways, jetties, piers and over rocks as they may be slippery and cause you to fall.
· Swimmers should “Get In, Get Out and Warm Up”, avoiding extended periods of exposure.
· Before entering the water throw some water down the back of your neck to allow your body prepare for cold water immersion.
· Alcohol should be avoided before swimming as it impairs judgment and increases the risk of cold water immersion and hypothermia.
· Ensure that you have safe access and egress with appropriate shallow shelving, steps or ladders. Less agile people should be mindful that steps leading into the water might be dangerous due to the possible growth of algae. Organisers should ensure that slipways or steps have been cleaned of slime, weed and algae.
· Christmas Swim organisers should ensure that they provide comprehensive details of each event to the Irish Coast Guard and local Gardai.
· Ensure that you have lifeguards for the event and adequate safety cover depending on numbers in regard to rescue boards, kayaks, surf skis and safety boats.
· Check with the Safety Officer, who will advise and has the ultimate responsibility for making decisions.
· If the seas are rough and weather deteriorates, wait for a more suitable day to support your charity commitment.
On average, 127 people drown every year, eleven every month. Safeguarding your loved ones extends beyond Christmas and New Year swims to family walks by rivers, lakes and shorelines. A full moon on December 22nd and a new moon on January 6th will increase the risk of stranding on our coastline due to the strong spring tides.
At inland water sites, parents can be lulled into a false sense of security when visiting areas close to water hazards such as slurry pits, exposed drains, rivers and canals. Safeguard your children with constant uninterrupted supervision and make a New Year’s resolution to learn swimming and lifesaving skills and to always wear a lifejacket on water.