The Coast Guard and RNLI have issued an appeal to the public to exercise caution when participating in any activity on or near the water, and to be aware of the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic.
“With many traditional Christmas and New Year swims cancelled, anybody planning this activity should check on the up-to-date guidance and ensure that they have made the appropriate safety arrangements,” they said in a statement.
Both organisations thanked the public for their cooperation during the past year and in particular to the positive response in adhering with severe weather warnings.
However, 2021 proved to be a busy year with an almost 20 per cent increase in callouts, which placed extra demand on search and rescue providers, including Coast Guard and RNLI volunteer crews.
As open water swimming becomes more popular, they also highlighted the risks of suffering cold water shock, which is a danger for anyone entering water 15°C or below.
“Average sea temperature around Ireland at this time of year are just 6-10°C, which can pose a risk of hypothermia, even for the most experienced of open water swimmers,” they added.
The top safety tips from the Coast Guard and the RNLI for open water swimming are:
• Always check the weather forecast and understand the local effects of wind, tides, and currents. (For weather and tides see www.safetyonthewater.gov.ie)
• Never swim alone and if possible, have somebody ashore who is familiar with your plans and can observe your progress.
• Only swim in sheltered areas with which you are familiar and swim parallel to the shore.
• Stay within your depth – know your limits including how long to stay in the water.
• Ensure that you are visible from the shore. Wear a brightly coloured swim cap or use a tow float to increase your visibility in the water.
• Wearing a wetsuit is advisable to help stay warm.
• Acclimatise to cold water slowly to reduce the risk of cold-water shock.
• Get warmed up afterwards. Wrap up well in extra layers of clothing
• If in doubt, don’t go out!
• Tell someone else where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Irish Coast Guard, Operations Manager Micheál O’Toole said: “We wish to thank everybody for their commitment and service in these extraordinary times with a special thank you to the volunteer members of the rescue services.
“People love to get out and about over the Christmas and New Year period. For those who have an opportunity to go on coastal walks always remember to Stay Back Stay High Stay Dry – and this year please be especially mindful of Covid related restrictions."
He added: “It is important to distinguish between the traditional Christmas quick dip and longer swims. Open water swimming at this time of the year is only for experienced participants and never, ever swim alone.”
RNLI Regional Lifesaving Lead Owen Medland added: “Our wish for everyone planning a trip to the coast or a festive swim is that they do so safely.
"We urge everyone to be extra cautious and understand the risks and know how to stay safe, before entering cold water. Please follow the right advice for your activity and always carry a means of calling for help.
“As we come to the end of the year, we would like to thank all those involved in search and rescue around the coast of Ireland and on inland waters.
“These dedicated men and women, many of whom are volunteers, will remain on call over the Christmas period and New Year, ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water.”
If you see somebody in trouble on the water or along the coast Dial 112 or use Marine VHF radio CH 16 and ask for the Coast Guard.