(Updated on Jan 29 to reflect 90 additional responses received since the last update. Total responses to date: 221)
When I read Loneswimmer’s post “Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale“, I realized that what I thought was cold water, wasn’t really cold for many swimmers out there. Loneswimmer starts talking about cold water at 7ºC, and he refers to 14ºC temperature as “Aaahhh summer”. I also saw a poll done by Steve Munatones on Daily News of Open Water Swimming in which 59% of respondents considered that 15ºC water was cold for Open Water swimming. In seeing such difference in opinions, I became interested in exploring how swimmers from different countries defined “cold”, so I went ahead and put together a poll. In our poll, we also qualified the duration of the swim (1 hour) to avoid different interpretations ranging from splash ‘n’ dash to marathon swims.
For background, the two questions that we asked were:
Question 1: What water temperature do you define as cold?
a) Under 2.5ºC (36.5ºF)
b) Under 5ºC (41ºF)
c) Under 7.5ºC (45.5ºF)
d) Under 10ºC (50ºF)
e) Under 12.5°C (54.5°F)
f) Under 15°C (59°F)
g) Under 17.5°C (63.5°F)
h) Under 20°C (68°F)
i) Under 22.5°C (72.5°F)
j) Under 25ºC (77ºF)
OWSwimming.com poll (OWS) vs Munatones poll comparison
Interestingly, there were significant differences between this poll results and the Munatones poll results. As we see in Table 1, the most mentioned cold water range in the Munatones poll were “Under 17.5ºC (63.5ºF)”, and “Under 15ºC (59ºF)”, while for OWS, the most mentioned ranges were “Under 12.5ºC (54.5ºF)” and “Under 15ºC (59ºF)”. If we see the cumulative results, 59% of swimmers in the Munatones poll consider that 15ºC (59ºF) water is cold, while only 30% of swimmers in the OWS poll do. 20% of swimmers in the Munatones poll consider that 20ºC (68ºF) is cold vs only 7% in the OWS poll.
Note: The % the Munatones poll add up to 97%, not 100%. I didn´t have access to the raw data so I was not able to get to the source of this inconsistency.
Tolerance of cold water by country
We got a total of 221 responses from 18 different countries. The largest turnout came from the USA (69 responses), Spain (67), UK (30), Ireland (17) and Australia (17). The average water temperature defined as “cold” is 14.4ºC (57.9ºF), but there are important differences among countries. The average for UK swimmers was 9.4ºC (48.9ºF), and 11.2ºC for Irish swimmers. On the other side, Australian swimmers and Spanish swimmers have a warmer definition of “cold”, averaging 16.7ºC (62.1ºF) and 16.3ºC (61.3ºF) respectively. US swimmers are closer to the group average, at 14.9ºC (58.8ºC).
Table 2. Water temperature response by country
I wanted to see if responses from one country were concentrated in similar temperature ranges or not. In chart 1 below, we see a lot of green and yellow in the left bars, red in the middle and right bars, orange in the right bars and blue in all bars. This shows that UK (yellow) and Irish (green) swimmers are pretty much concentrated in the coldest ranges. There seems to be a more homogeneous definition for UK and Irish swimmers as to what “cold” stands for. Spanish swimmers (red) live in the mid and warmer ranges and Australian swimmers (orange) are more concentrated in the warmer ranges). USA swimmers (blue) are spread out in the different temperature ranges, which is probably due to the diversity of water temperatures prevalent in the US. I got responses from swimmers from Hawaii, Florida, Northern California, NY, etc, so it it logical to have responses across the range of the water temperature spectrum.
Chart 1: Cold water temperature distribution between countries
When I showed these results to my fellow swimmer (and wife) Susan, she said “Duh, so swimmers from cold weather can stand colder water”. Well, it is true that I am not solving the Riemann Hypothesis, but I kind of like having data that supports anecdotal assumptions.
A big thanks to the 221 swimmers who responded to this poll, and in particular to those of you who went out of your way to spread the word. I hope that you find the results interesting, and feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions on future polls that you would like me to conduct.