Can You Swim in 60-Degree Water? Know the Risks

Imagine stepping into a cold shower on a chilly day – that’s pretty close to the sensation of swimming 60-degree water. Knowing that, do you think you can do it?

While it is possible to swim in 60-degree water for a short amount of time, you should probably wear some protective clothing. Unprotected, you can swim for around 30 minutes before suffering muscle cramps and hypothermia. However, with the right protective clothing, like a full wetsuit and other neoprene accessories, you can extend your time in the water.

Can You Swim in 60-Degree Water

In this article, we will discuss the risks of swimming in 60-degree water, including cold water shock and hypothermia. We will also discuss how you can safely swim in this temperature range by wearing the right gear and following best practices.

Understanding Water Temperature Ranges

When it comes to swimming, water temperatures can be grouped into three main categories: cold, moderate, and warm.

  • Cold water is generally considered to be anything below 18°C or 64°F. This temperature range poses a greater risk for swimmers, particularly those who are not acclimated and may need a wetsuit for protection.
  • Moderate water falls between 18-27°C or 64-80°F, providing a comfortable swimming environment for those used to cold water.
  • Warm water refers to anything above 27°C or 80°F and is ideal for swimming and other water-based activities without any extra layers of insulation needed.

How Water Temperature Affects You

Different water temperatures play a role in various water activities. For example, cold water swimming may increase the risk of hypothermia, while moderate and warm waters offer a more comfortable swimming experience where you can take your time and enjoy the water without a strict time limit.

Water temperature also has a significant impact on how your body reacts to the aquatic environment. When exposed to cold water, your body undergoes physiological responses such as vasoconstriction, which restricts blood flow to the extremities and conserves heat around vital organs. This, in turn, can result in sluggish movement in your limbs which can be a drowning risk.

Furthermore, swimming in cold water, particularly below 60°F, can result in a range of risks and complications, such as cramps, breathing difficulties, and rapid exhaustion. In more extreme cases, prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to the onset of hypothermia, a life-threatening condition where your core body temperature falls dangerously low.

To safely and comfortably enjoy swimming in a variety of water temperatures, you’ll want to acclimate your body gradually to the water. Also, consider using protective gear such as a wetsuit and other neoprene accessories when swimming in colder waters.

Always listen to your body, and if you notice any signs of discomfort or distress, promptly exit the water and warm yourself up as soon as possible.

Safety Concerns and Risks

Cold Shock

When you jump into 60-degree water, your body may experience cold shock. According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, sudden immersion in water under 60 degrees Fahrenheit can put your life at risk in less than a minute.

Your breathing can immediately become uncontrollable, making it challenging to coordinate with wave splashes. This sudden loss of breath control can cause you to swallow or choke on water, easily leading to drowning even if you’re an experienced swimmer.


Swimming in cold water can cause your muscles to tire quickly. As the water temperature drops, your body works harder to maintain its core temperature, requiring more energy than usual.

In 60-degree water, you might only be able to swim for 30 minutes before experiencing muscle cramps and reduced mobility. If you don’t take necessary precautions such as wearing a wetsuit, you’ll be much more susceptible to fatigue.

Hypothermia Risk

Another important risk to consider when swimming in cold water is hypothermia. As your body gets exposed to cold water temperatures, it loses heat faster than it can produce, eventually leading to a drop in your core body temperature.

If your body temperature falls too low, hypothermia can set in, causing dizziness, confusion, and slow movements. Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention.

Remember that while swimming in 60-degree water is possible, the risks are serious. Always prioritize your safety and listen to your body while enjoying the water.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch for

Hypothermia Signs

Hypothermia begins to set in when your body temperature drops due to prolonged exposure to water that is too cold. Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Shivering: Uncontrollable shivering is one of the first signs of hypothermia. As your body temperature drops, your muscles will begin to contract and relax in an attempt to generate heat.
  • Cold skin: Your skin may feel cold to the touch, and you may notice that your face becomes pale.
  • Weakness and fatigue: As your body temperature decreases, your body will have to work harder to maintain basic functions. This can lead to weakness, fatigue, and a decline in your swimming capabilities.
  • Confusion: Hypothermia can cause confusion and a decline in decision-making abilities. If you notice that you’re having trouble thinking clearly, it may be time to get out of the water.

Cold Water Shock Symptoms

Cold water shock occurs when you experience an initial, painful reaction to the cold water. This can result in involuntary gasping, which increases the risk of drowning. When swimming in cold water, watch for these symptoms:

  • Painful cold sensation: Upon entry, the water may feel painfully cold, causing your body to tense up and negatively impacts your swim stroke.
  • Gasp reflex: The shock of cold water can cause you to gasp involuntarily. This can lead to water entering your lungs and increase your chances of drowning.
  • Shortness of breath: Cold water might trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, causing you to breathe more rapidly. This shortness of breath can make it difficult to swim efficiently.
  • Loss of motor skills: Cold water can cause a loss of dexterity and motor skills, making it difficult to swim properly and increasing your risk of drowning.

If you notice any of these signs while swimming in 60-degree water, exit the water and seek medical attention.

Essential Cold Water Safety Tips

Wear Insulating Gear

When swimming in 60-degree water, wearing a full wetsuit or even a drysuit is crucial for your safety and comfort.

A full wetsuit is made from neoprene, which provides excellent insulation and buoyancy. For 60-degree water, you’ll probably want one that is 5 or 6mm thick.

In addition to a full wetsuit, there are other essential accessories for cold-water swimming. A neoprene cap not only keeps your head warm but also helps with visibility.

Neoprene gloves and boots can also be beneficial, as they protect your extremities from the cold and reduce the risk of experiencing cramps.

Not only does neoprene keep you warm, but it provides additional buoyancy, helping you to conserve energy and stay afloat more easily, further reducing drowning risk.

Slowly Acclimate to the Water Temperature

Before venturing into cold water, acclimatize your body to the chilly temperatures gradually. Start by wading in slowly and allowing your body to adapt. When swimming, regulate your breathing to avoid hyperventilation, which can occur due to the initial shock of cold water.

While in the water, be aware of your body’s signals. If you start shivering uncontrollably or feeling numbness, it’s time to exit the water.

Warm Up Afterwards

As soon as you’re out of the water, dry yourself thoroughly and change into warm, dry clothes. Wet clothes can continue to cool your body down.

Gradually warm your body up. Use warm blankets, heated clothing, or a warm environment to gradually raise your body temperature. Avoid direct, intense heat like hot showers or heating pads, as these can cause your blood vessels to expand quickly, leading to faster heat loss.

When it comes to clothing, wear multiple layers of clothing including a hat and gloves. Your body loses a lot of heat from your head, so wearing a hat can help retain heat.

You’ve probably lost a lot of fluid from the exercise, so drink some warm liquids to help simultaneously replenish the fluids and raise your body temperature from the inside. Avoid alcohol, as it may increase heat loss.

Also, refuel by eating foods high in carbohydrates and protein. This can help your body generate heat and recover from the energy lost while swimming.