Cold water FAQs

The Pacific Northwest are cold, there’s no two ways about it. As a swimmer, you’ll want to be ready to handle that. In addition to basic training and all the other great resources on swimming in cold water, here are some specifics on cold water swimming in the Northwest?

Q. Isn’t that crazy? Won’t you die? I thought you cold only survive, like, eight minutes in that water??

A. Those, along with “you’re so brave” and “why” are some of the most common questions/comments posed by passers-by at the beaches here. Cold water swimming can be an amazingly fun time once you get acclimated. And you won’t die if you’re using your head. That said, most locals still think it’s impossible.

Q. How cold is ‘cold’?

A. The temperatures in the Puget Sound range from 45F to 60F. The temperature is very consistent throughout the year, and can jump on warm, sunny days in the summer with the right tide and algae presence. You’d be correct in thinking that never gets that warm, but think about the Atlantic Ocean during a Northeast winter; it never gets that cold, either.

Q. What should I expect? Last time I tried it, I felt like my face would fall off.

A. Getting in is always the hardest part, and there is no wrong way to do it. Expect your extremities to have an ‘ice-cream headache’ feel for a little bit, but it will go away. Take in a quick peek at the mountains or scan the horizon for orcas, then put your head back in and keep going. Repeat.

Q. Is there a sauna for after? The South End Rowing Club has a sauna.

A. No, not yet. Tully’s at Alki Beach has a great fireplace which swimmers use quite often, but other than that, get the car heaters cranked up.

Q. Are there warm spots and cold spots?

A. The Puget sound is over 800 feet deep in spots, so the temperature stays pretty consistent, especially in the main basin between Tacoma and Whidbey Island. The Strait is consistently the coldest, with areas outside the main basin (like the back of Whidbey or Bainbridge, or inlets like Hood Canal) having warmer water in the summer. The primary training beaches of Alki, Ruston Way, and Owen lean toward the cooler side because of the currents that flow past them, which is another thing that makes them such great training spots.

Q. Where do I get started?

A. In the water, mostly. acclimatization takes time. Regular exposure to cold water will get your body used to the temperature. Don’t wait until summer to get started, swimming through the autumn, winter, and spring will make the summer feel much better.

Q. I don’t want to try this alone. Are there groups that do this regularly?

A. Yes. Alki Beach in West Seattle has a group that meets at 9:30am every Saturday, with swimmers of vast experience and goals. If Seattle, or Saturdays, or mornings aren’t your thing, you can hook up with other local swimmers on Facebook, or contact us for directions.