Wetsuit or non-wetsuit?

This event allows you to decide whether you want to wear a wetsuit or not.

Wetsuits became popular for swimming by triathletes who needed to be able to cycle and run after coming out of a swim in open water. If you wear a wetsuit it should be a swimming specific wetsuit, these are the type typically worn by triathletes. Triathlon or open water swimming wetsuits have thin neoprene in key areas to make them more flexible around the shoulders for swimming compared to surfing or diving wetsuits. Be careful about chaffing of the neck from your wetsuit during long swims – lubricant should be used around the neck.

To swim in the UK waters without a wetsuit for long periods requires some acclimatisation. Some non-wetsuit swimmers apply Vaseline under their arms and around the neck, especially in salt water. Channel swimmers tend not to use Goose Fat any more, rather they apply Vaseline onto the skin in all potential chaffing areas on long swims (groin, under arms and around neck). You can buy ‘wetsuit friendly’ lube which is kinder to neoprene than Vaseline.

Advantages of using a wetsuit:

• Wetsuits keep you warmer in the water as well as providing extra buoyancy.
• The increased insulation allows you to focus on completing your swim rather than worrying about being cold.
• Some swimmers find the extra buoyancy easier to maintain a better swimming position if their legs normally tend to ‘sink’ rather than float.
• You can also wear neoprene socks, gloves and hat (although if you wear a hat you must wear your ‘race hat’ over the top as the colour is part of the water safety.

Disadvantages of using a wetsuit:

• Some swimmers find a wetsuit restricts their movement.
• Wetsuits can cause chaffing around the neck (most swimmers apply some form of ‘lube’ around the neck)
• Experienced swimmers prefer the ‘Channel Swimming Rules’ of no neoprene when swimming.

Non wetsuit swimmers
If you choose not to wear a wetsuit then you must wear a swim tow-float which is available to purchase on the entry system check-out.

Swim Tow-Float

A swim tow-float attaches around your waist with a belt and a short leash tows an inflatable ‘buoy’ behind you. The tow-float provides increased visibility so you can always be seen in the water, and if you get cramp or need a rest you can simply hold onto the float rather then tread water. These floats are now widely used and are a recognized safety device in open water swimming. In the Swim Serpentine event tow-floats are compulsory for non-wetsuit swimmers and optional for wetsuit swimmers.

Swim Hats

You will be provided with a silicone swim hat for the event. These hats will be in various colours which will correspond to your start time. If you have a favourite swim hat, you can wear this underneath your Swim Serpentine hat (this will keep you a little warmer as well). You can wear a neoprene hat under your Swim Serpentine hat if you need to. Just watch out if it is a very warm day, as we don’t want you overheating. During your swim training in open water it is always advisable to use a bright coloured hat, so you are more visible when swimming.


Generally speaking goggles you use in the pool should be fine for open water swimming. Goggles should be comfortable and not too old and scratchy or foggy that you can’t see through clearly. There are some open water specific goggles, which are polarized or mirrored that can help you to see clearly on cloudy days.

Other neoprene items

Wetsuit gloves and socks – these can be worn, but make sure you have tried these out before the event to make sure they fit properly and don’t result in any drag.

Post swim routine

On a cold day you want to keep yourself as warm as possible; when you have finished your swim you should get changed into warm clothing as soon as possible and wear a hat to keep warm. A hot drink is also a good idea, so consider taking a flask if you are swimming somewhere without a club house or café. You may experience mild shivering as your body starts to warm up from a long swim.

Be Prepared

Like any challenge, the more you prepare for your open water swim the more enjoyment you will get out of it.

Do: Practise in the pool to gain fitness
Do: Swim in open water to gain confidence and experience
Do: Start training now!
Do: Try out your gear before you swim

Don’t: Swim open water in a daft place! Find out the safest spots from local swimmers.
Don’t: Swim alone – have a buddy for moral and safety support.