Swim performance and thermoregulatory effects of wearing clothing in a simulated cold‑water survival situation

Heather Bowes, Clare Mary Eglin, Michael John Tipton, Martin Barwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose - Accidental cold-water immersion (CWI) impairs swim performance, increases drowning risk and often occurs whilst clothed. The impact of clothing on thermoregulation and swim performance during CWI was explored with the view of making recommendations on whether swimming is viable for self-rescue; contrary to the traditional recommendations.

- Ten unhabituated males (age 24 (4) years; height 1.80 (0.08) m; mass 78.50 (10.93) kg; body composition 14.8 (3.4) fat %) completed four separate CWIs in 12 °C water. They either rested clothed or naked (i.e. wearing a bathing costume) or swum self-paced clothed or naked for up to 1 h. Swim speed, distance covered, oxygen consumption and thermal responses (rectal temperature (T re), mean skin temperature (T msk) and mean body temperature T b) were measured.

Results - When clothed, participants swum at a slower pace and for a significantly shorter distance (815 (482) m, 39 (19) min) compared to when naked (1264 (564) m, 52 (18) min), but had a similar oxygen consumption indicating clothing made them less efficient. Swimming accelerated the rate of T msk and T b cooling and wearing clothing partially attenuated this drop. The impairment to swimming performance caused by clothing was greater than the thermal benefit it provided; participants withdrew due to exhaustion before hypothermia developed.

- Swimming is a viable self-rescue method in 12 °C water, however, clothing impairs swimming capability. Self-rescue swimming could be considered before clinical hypothermia sets in for the majority of individuals. These suggestions must be tested for the wider population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-767
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
Early online date29 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • Thermoregulation
  • Swim failure
  • Cold water
  • Body composition
  • Hypothermia
  • Insulation


Dive into the research topics of 'Swim performance and thermoregulatory effects of wearing clothing in a simulated cold‑water survival situation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this