For swimmers there are few feelings better than going for a dip on a warm sunny day with a gentle cooling breeze, the sun glinting off the surface of the clear blue water and the cry of the gulls echoing off the cliffs as they wheel overhead. And if that’s the norm for you then I hope you appreciate it. For many of us, conditions are often very different as we contend with a climate that regularly produces grey murky waters, howling gales and driving rain.

But should inclement weather stop us from swimming in open water? Well, not necessarily. Just because it’s damp and miserable, cold and drizzling, these usually aren’t in themselves, reasons not to take to the waters. In fact, a kind of perverse pleasure can often be derived from swimming in less than perfect conditions.

However, a note of caution needs to be sounded and to jump in with reckless abandon with no regard to the weather at all can invite disaster. A healthy respect for the state of the water and how it has been affected by the weather is always the prudent course. Plus there is always a need to keep an eye on the forecast so that you are not taken unawares by any changes that may happen.

So a little light drizzle probably isn’t going to make a great deal of difference for a river or sea swim. However, should this develop into something heavier then precautions may be wise. First, consider the visibility aspect both in terms of you being able to see the shore and also being able to see and be seen by other swimmers. If the rain becomes particularly heavy it may obscure landmarks and other points of reference which tell you exactly where you are. The sound of the rain hitting the water may also make it more difficult to attract attention if you get into difficulties or to be aware of the circumstances of your fellow swimmers.  Likewise, mist or fog can be equally disorientating.

Photo by Inge Maria on Unsplash

Increased volumes of water can alter the flow creating eddies and currents which are unfamiliar even in your most regular haunts. In extreme cases flooding may occur or currents become so strong that it becomes difficult to navigate your usual entry and exit points. New and unfamiliar hazards may present themselves in the form of obstructions that become difficult to avoid and floating debris. These are more likely to occur in rivers but at least there you have less chance of a current sweeping you out away from the shore and unable to return as may be the case in the sea.

Even once the rain has passed you need to be aware that run-off from surrounding land can lead to chemicals and other pollution entering the water for a period of up to 24 hours afterwards.

Heavy rain rarely occurs without strong winds and, whether accompanying a downpour or not, gales present their own challenges. Choppy waters will always create a higher degree of difficulty for breathing, particularly bi-lateral breathing, for even the most experienced swimmer. The deprivation and distortion of the efficient travel of sound become even greater and higher waves invariably mean that the danger of losing contact with the shore also increases as it becomes impossible to sight easily across the surface of the water.

Photo by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash

One should also consider the effect of a sudden drop in temperature caused by heavy rain and the wind-chill which may result from even a fairly moderate wind. Plus the impact of bad weather on any support vessels which may be accompanying you, especially relatively light craft such as canoes and kayaks. The pilots may become so focused on their own safety that they have very little time to consider your needs and welfare.

Should it start to hail, it will be at best unpleasant and, if conditions worsen, downright dangerous. Thunder and lightning are, fortunately, fairly rare occurrences but nevertheless, it should be remembered that lightning discharges along the surface with a power of between 10 to 100 million vaults, more than enough to cause a fatality. Even the sound as it discharges can reach up to 200 decibels which would result in a temporary or permanent loss of hearing.

Even heading indoors in bad weather is not without its risks! Lightning can still pose a threat if the pool is not adequately grounded and bonded and the potential for equipment failure leading to the back-up of foul water or sewage into the water is also increased!

So does all this doom and gloom mean that you should never swim in anything less than ideal conditions? Of course not. Thousands of people swim all year round come rain or shine and never encounter any problems. In fact, it could be argued that there is no such thing as good or bad weather when it comes to swimming.  Even when it’s bright and sunny one has to be aware of the danger of sunburn, the effects of which may be masked initially by the water and of the reduced visibility caused by the reflections of the rays on the water.

The message is merely one of caution. Weigh up the risks and benefits of any swim, taking all factors into consideration beforehand and be prepared to call it off or cut it short if necessary.

But by the same token, as long as safety is your watchword, you should enjoy the variety that different weather conditions can bring to your swim. Within reason, the additional challenges they present and the ways in which you need to adapt your stroke in order to counteract them can only ever improve your swimming and the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings you.

In other words, when it comes to swimming in the rain, you can be laughing at clouds, so dark up above. If the sun’s in your heart, you’re ready for love!

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