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, which are 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).
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 makes it 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.
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 recognised safety device in open water swimming.
In the Swim Serpentine event tow-floats are compulsory for non-wetsuit swimmers and optional for wetsuit swimmers.