Tips for Swimming in the River in Autumn

Swimming in the river in Autumn is rather different to that of wild swimming in summer. I started swimming in a local river a while ago when we bought our Stand Up Paddle Board. I only ever go to the same place as we had been with Natalie from Plutoniumsox Blog as she is a strong and experienced wild swimmer. We followed her advice at the time but seeing as we had been there so many times I guess I had got a little over-confident. Here are some mistakes I have made since the weather has changed.

Bridge over the river when it is raining

Tips for Swimming in the River in Autumn

  • Don’t go swimming in the river alone.
    • I thought by telling my husband where I was and that I would message him to know when I got out it would be enough. I was wrong. There are lots of groups around and I have yet to find someone in them who isn’t friendly.
  • Make sure you can be seen. Whether that’s a bright hat, a tow-float or both it is a good idea for any boats etc that approach or if something goes wrong.
  • Remove rings. When I jeffed the marathon my hands swelled up from the cold but they can also contract – and therefore rings may end up slipping off your hands!
  • Make sure the River is safe.
    • This includes knowing where you can get in and out safely, and slowly. That the depth and speed is okay. That it isn’t polluted/too muddy/too many weeds/fallen trees or other obstacles.
      • Look which way the river is flowing and throw a stick in. If you can’t walk as fast as it moves then it isn’t safe to get in.
      • Swim toward the current apparently – rather than just letting it take you down the river. Watch out for places where it may be stronger – such as around bridges.
      • I also wear swim shoes to stop my feet being cut by anything that you cannot see under the water. It also means I have a change of shoes in case it is muddy.
      • I have now seen people even attach ladders to the side of the bank to make getting in and out easier.
  • Getting into the water slowly.
    • Also don’t just get in when it is really cold you need to gradually get used to it. Try cold baths and make the transition from summer to winter by going regularly. Enter the water slowly. Allowing your body to get over the shock before swimming. Of course also be familiar with the cold shock response.
boy entering river slowly
  • Know your limits.
    • Whether that is the temperature, the strength of the current or how long you are in for. Apparently it is best to swim towards the current – that makes sense because it can’t drag you past where you want to go then.
  • Be Prepared for Getting Out.
    • The first time I went swimming in the river in autumn I was unprepared for just how cold I would be when I got out. Whilst swimming I was fine. I had swam away from where I had parked the car – with everything needed to get me warm again. Although the run back did help warm me up a bit. Ideally you should either swim towards the car or take a dry bag. I also use a food bag as extra protection for keeping my car key dry and then pop that into my dry bag. Learn about after drop – this is quite something and can be dangerous.
    • Take a bottle of water to clean your hands etc as getting out can be quite muddy.
    • Having a hot drink as soon as possible will help you warm up on the inside. A sugary snack is also a great idea (every swim group I have joined asks about my favourite cake!)
    • Think about how you will get warm and dry. I organise what I need in its order for when I get out (this also helps with no forgetting something like underwear, as happened to our teen the first time we went when it was cold as we are used to going home in our costumes in the summer). He has an imitation dry robe and I have also invested in a woolly hat, thermal socks and gloves. The hat is the first thing to go on followed by the dry robe. Then I have my hot drink before drying and changing my top half to keep my core warm. I wear layers (currently three). Before moving on to the bottom half. A hot water bottle is also a good idea.
    • A lot of swimmers have a Dryrobe to change under but an alternative is a pop up tent. This would make it easier just to strip off and put warm clothes on without worrying about who might see your privates.
    • I have a big wet bag to put things in straight away. I have heard that some people use them to put on the ground to step into whilst getting changed too.
mother and son post river swim picture
  • Don’t drive straight away.
    • You will not be concentrating the same as the cold slows the brain down so reactions will not be as fast.
  • Find other Swimmers
    • They are happy to give advice about all things wild swimming and maybe even meet up. I have mostly found them on Facebook and Instagram.

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