Sea swimming is one of the best ways to keep fit, expand your horizons and make new friends – but you have to treat the sea with caution.
If you’ve ever walked along the seafront in the UK you’ll probably have seen someone or a group of people bobbing along in the ocean.
Sea swimming is a freeing activity that helps you restore your physical and mental wellbeing. But what you might not realise as you watch people swimming in the sea is the amount of preparation they’ve done beforehand to make sure they’re safe.
In our latest lifestyle blog, we’re talking about sea swimming – the benefits, and dangers, of jumping into the waves. We’ve spoken to Ruth Rose – sea swimmer, Seaford Mermaids creator, and takegoodcare Unsung Hero – to ask ‘is sea swimming good for you’ and to get her advice on swimming in the sea.
Making sure you have fun, get fit and stay safe is what it’s all about. So, if you want to know more about sea swimming, read on!
Is swimming in the sea good for you?
Sea swimming and cold water swimming are often considered the same thing when it comes to health benefits. The NHS says swimming “is proven to reduce your risk of serious illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke”.
Swimming can also:
- Help you lose weight
- Improve general flexibility
- Boost strength and mobility
- Improve your mood
- Reduce stress levels
- Boost your mental wellbeing
And what’s great about sea swimming is your physical and mental capacity can be pushed further. Depending on when you swim, your body may need to get stronger to handle the waves, or your mind to be more resilient to colder temperatures.
Another great benefit of sea swimming is the social opportunities it brings. Whether you’re dipping into the North Sea on a chilly December morning, or relaxing in a Caribbean lagoon on holiday, doing it with friends and family is a wonderful way to interact with others.
It’s this interaction that gave Ruth the idea to set up Seaford Mermaids on the East Sussex coast. The group now has almost 400 members and sets out into the waves every morning.
Dangers of sea swimming
Of course, while there are plenty of benefits to sea swimming there are also serious risks. Seas can be choppy, feature undercurrents and hide sharp rocks from view. Even the calmest seas in the UK can be dangerous if you’re not careful. Unseen currents are particularly dangerous.
What’s more, swimming in cold water when you’re not used to it can cause your body to shut down very fast. Even a 30-second dip in the sea on Christmas Day could shock your body beyond its limits.
In fact, next time you see a sea swimmer bobbing along in the winter, it’s likely they will have trained their body from the warm summer months to be prepared for the colder temperatures.
How to start sea swimming
If you want to start sea swimming then here are some useful tips for getting in the water:
Find the right spot
It’s worth doing your research and finding a patch of sea that has an accessible beach, is calm most days and is away from sewage pipes. It’s always good to go with an area that is popular with dog walkers, as it means even if you swim alone there will probably be someone there to help if you need it.
People are increasingly asking is it safe to swim in the sea in the UK? The answer, generally, is yes. But you need to find the right spot, and check the Surfers Against Sewage map every day.
Take your time
It’s never a good idea to lunge straight into the sea, try and swim to the next town and back, and end up hurting yourself. Sea swimming can be great for long-distance fitness but in time. Just like you wouldn’t put your trainers on and try to run a marathon, with sea swimming you need to help your body get used to the rigours of the ocean.
So, take your time, begin with short dips (especially if it’s cold) and build your body and mind up.
Research social clubs
Clubs such as Seaford Mermaids often spring out of nowhere, and there are social groups around the country that offer amazing support and friendship for sea swimmers – both new and experienced!
Get swimming lessons
If you want to swim in the sea but don’t feel confident with the swimming part, then get lessons! Some instructors will teach you in the sea itself, although you’ll usually have to train at a local swimming pool.
Advice for swimming in the sea
If you’re serious about taking up sea swimming as a regular hobby then you need to make sure your body is ready for it. This doesn’t mean going to the gym for six months to buff up your muscles. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
You don’t have to be physically in shape to swim in the sea. You just have to know what you’re doing and plan ahead.
And so, we asked Ruth from Seaford Mermaids for her advice when it comes to daily bobbing along in the waves. Here’s what she recommends…
Time it right
“People come to us in the summer and say “I want to do this, how do I start?”. I always say it’s best to start in the late summer when the water is warmest, and that way your body gets used to the temperature as it begins to get colder in the autumn.
“For many people the target is Christmas – and if you keep going, and keep going, and keep going, you will make it. What’s amazing is that once you get to Christmas you’re probably going to carry on into the new year!
“The temperature at Christmas isn’t too bad, it’s around 11c. It’s March when it gets colder. But again, if you’ve been swimming in gradually colder temperatures for months then you can do it.”
Get good boots
“Of course, you need to get yourself a good set of swim boots and gloves to help during those cold months.
“I wear a pair of beach shoes specially made for sea swimmers – I find these better because they have drain holes for when you get out of the water.
“And you shouldn’t stay in the sea longer than six to eight minutes when it’s cold, otherwise your body starts to feel it and begins to shut down your extremities.”
“I would definitely advise you to get a pair of 5mm gloves. They need to be this thick in order to keep the cold out for the time you’re in the water.
“A pair of good rubber swimming gloves will cost you around £30 or £40 but they are definitely worth having. Your fingers get cold swimming in the winter faster than you think.”
Start with a wet suit
“I don’t wear any special wet suit in the winter, I just wear a swimming costume. But I can do this because my body is used to the cold, and I’m not staying in the water for too long.
“But new swimmers should definitely start out with a wet suit if they’re not used to the conditions. In summer it’s perhaps not necessary. But as the seasons change a wet suit is important.
Swim with someone else
“We always encourage people to swim with others, in order to help out if anyone gets into trouble. What’s more, it’s great for socialising. That’s why Seaford Mermaids is such great fun!
“If you can’t swim with someone else then make sure to tell someone that you’re going sea swimming.”