Polar Plunge Q&A: everything you need to know

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The Polar Plunge is a fearsome rite of passage for visitors to Antarctica and the Arctic. Here, we share what you need to know so you can leap with ease

I still remember the moment I learnt about the Polar Plunge. I was at home in London on a typically gloomy day in the mid 2010s. I was wasting time online when I came across an article about Antarctica. Sadly, I can’t remember the writer’s name, but the photo of her was joyous: midway through the Polar Plunge, her body drawn into a starfish shape, a jubilant smile on her face. It was so pure and fun, and completely unselfconscious in a way that women are taught not to be. 

I decided that one day I too would take the Plunge. Fast forward seven years and I’ve done it in both Antarctica and the Arctic. To help you decide whether or not to take the leap, I’ve put together a comprehensive Q&A about the Polar Plunge. 

What is the Polar Plunge?

The Polar Plunge is a fearsome rite of passage for visitors to Antarctica and the Arctic (i.e. the Polar regions). It entails jumping into near-freezing water (1-2°C), usually off the ship, occasionally off a Zodiac and sometimes off the shore. Most operators that travel to these regions will run a Polar Plunge, but double check at the time of booking if you’re keen to do it. 

What happens during the Polar Plunge?

The type of plunge you do will depend on the weather, location and logistics. We plunged off the shore in Antarctica and off the ship in the Arctic. In both cases, we had to sign a waiver before we could participate. 

Off the shore

We did a shore plunge as part of our 10-day expedition to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. This type of plunge takes relatively little preparation; you simply strip off on the coast and run into the water while a photographer in a nearby Zodiac takes pictures.

Peter diving into the Southern Ocean
Werner Kruse Peter takes the Polar Plunge off the shore in Antarctica

Once you come out, you can dry off with one of the supplied towels and change into dry clothes. Afterwards, you will be ferried back to the ship via a Zodiac. Note: There are no changing facilities so you will have to guard your modesty with a towel. 

Off the ship

We plunged off the ship as part of our 8-day expedition to Svalbard, the last stop before the North Pole. This type of plunge feels more like an occasion. 

You will be invited to the mudroom below deck where you will queue for your turn. The plunge takes around five minutes per passenger, so wrap up warm. The crew will play music to psych you up, so move, dance and get in the mood.

Atlas & Boots
Kia and Peter take the Plunge

When it’s your turn, you will take off your outer layers and be tethered to the ship with a secure belt. You will walk down the stairs, pause and pose for the photographer and then plunge into the icy water. The shock will be severe, but take a pause and enjoy the moment. 

You will climb back up the stairs where the crew will untether you and warm you up with a towel – and a shot of vodka! The ship doctor will also be on standby. 

Atlas & Boots The crew will be on standby to warm you up

At this stage, you can either join the back of the queue if you want to do the plunge again (a couple of passengers on our ship did indeed go twice), or hurry back inside. Personally, I opted for a steamy shower.

Will someone take photos of my Polar Plunge?

Yes, there will be an official trip photographer taking photos of each passenger’s plunge. If you’re filming your own plunge, make sure you secure the camera to your body in case you drop it out of shock.

Passengers not doing the plunge will usually line the upper decks to watch, so you may want to recruit a couple of them to take pictures of you as well. 

How should I pose for the Polar Plunge?

Just have fun! I opted for the starfish, which was decidedly less graceful than Peter’s dive. My excuse is that he’s a water baby who grew up by the sea while I was an inner-city kid who barely saw the ocean!

How cold is the Polar Plunge?

The water is near freezing so expect temperatures of 1-2°C. It may be even colder as saltwater freezes at lower temperatures.

What does the Polar Plunge feel like?

Plunging into the bone-chilling water metres from pack ice is a shock to the system. Imagine being winded while getting brain freeze while icy needles sink into your skin. That should give you a rough idea!

Is the Polar Plunge dangerous?

If you are concerned, seek advice from your doctor or a healthcare professional. In our experience, it was completely safe. You will be tethered to the ship at all times and the ship doctor will supervise every plunge. 

Is there an age limit for the Polar Plunge?

There isn’t usually an age limit. Passengers under the age of 18 have to be supervised by a parent or guardian at all times. Elderly passengers should seek medical advice before doing the plunge. 

What should I wear for the Polar Plunge?

You can do the Polar Plunge in your swimwear but make sure you wrap up warm for the queue. The plunge takes around five minutes per passenger so if you have even four passengers in front of you, you could be queuing for 20 minutes. You will have time to take off outer layers before taking the leap. We wore bathrobes, which weren’t warm enough!

Atlas & Boots
Before and after taking the Polar Plunge

Can I change my mind?

Yes, absolutely! You can choose not to do the plunge at any time.

How much does the Polar Plunge cost?

The Polar Plunge is included in the cost of the expedition. 

Is the Polar Plunge in Antarctica or Arctic better?

It depends on the weather, conditions and location. As a general rule, the Polar Plunge in Antarctica will be better in terms of scenery. Either way, plunging off the ship is far more fun – and feels more like an occasion – than plunging off the shore. 

So – should I do the Polar Plunge?

Yes, we highly recommend doing the Polar Plunge! It was one of the highlights of our trip to the Arctic. The pain is stunning but brief and you’ll remember this bucket list moment forever.


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Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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