THE CHRISTMAS season is a time when hundreds of people around County Wicklow must take extra care when taking part in sponsored swims in support of many charitable causes.
Irish Water Safety has issued a Christmas survival guide to ensure no festive swims end in tragedy this year.
St. Stephen's Day and New Year's Day charity swimmers occasionally take chances beyond what is acceptably safe, finding themselves left without sufficient strength to climb out of the water due to the cold. Cold winter waters can cause 'cold shock' and hypothermia can set in within minutes, overwhelming the fittest of swimmers. If sea conditions deteriorate then the charity swim should be cancelled.
If you see a person in difficulties do not attempt a rescue for which you are not trained. Make use of any nearby rescue equipment such as a ringbuoy and in the event of an emergency call the emergency services on 999 or 112.
No alcohol should be taken before the swim.
People organising these swims should ensure that they provide comprehensive details of each event to the Irish Coast Guard and local Gardai. Each event should have a Safety Officer appointed, who will advise those concerned on safety and have the ultimate responsibility for making decisions in relation to the swim being on or off on the day. If the seas are rough and weather deteriorates, they should defer the event to a more suitable day without question. Do not take a chance on running the event.
Many participants will not have swam since the summer and the temperature of the water has now dropped considerably. It is a fallacy that alcohol will keep you warm when entering the water; in fact it has the reverse effect and could kill you. Irish Water Safety strongly recommend that no alcohol be taken either before the swim or after the swim and also remind people that they may be in breach of the drink driving laws when driving to or from the event.
Cold water can cause cold shock and hypothermia in minutes, because the temperature of the water at this time of year will be below 50F/10C. Elderly people should be mindful that steps leading into the water might be dangerous due to the increased growth of algae in wintertime. Swimmers remaining in the water for extended periods in a gesture of bravado is not acceptable. The message is 'Get In, Get Out and Warm Up.'
Meanwhile, walkers are also asked to take care if they are out for a stroll along the beach. The full moon on Friday December 28 will result in a higher tidal range and with it an increased risk of people becoming stranded whilst walking with family and friends over areas of beach and rocks not normally exposed during standard tides.