May Dip is an annual St Andrews student tradition where students run into the sea at sunrise on the first of May to cleanse any academic sins and promote good luck on exams.
Gaudie: The annual Gaudie, a torchlit pier walk, takes place on 30 April in honour of John Honey, a student in the year 1800 who rescued five members of the crew of the Janet of Macduff, a ship that had run aground off of East Sands.
His heroic actions were recognized with commendation from the magistrates of St Andrews and other cities, and his legacy is remembered as a testament to his bravery and integrity. The Kate Kennedy Club provide hundreds of wax torches to give to students as they process up and down the St Andrews Pier, the scene of Honey’s incredible feat, in commemoration of his bravery.
May Dip: St Andrews students believe that a cold dip will promote good luck on exams and cure any academic sins committed throughout the year, such as stepping on the ‘PH’ outside St Salvator’s quad or academic incest.
The exact origins of May Dip are unclear, but by the mid 20th century it has been reported that students began dipping in the sea on May 1st.
The dip initially occurred at Castle Sands where students swam the length of the pool. Then the dip moved to East Sands in 2011 due to growing student participation and safety concerns.
Now, you can find hundreds of students gather on East Sands every year at sunrise on 1 May.
- Sunday 30 April, evening: The evening before the May Dip, students gather outside Younger Hall from 8pm wearing their red gowns to take part in the Gaudie, a torchlit procession down the pier.
- Monday 1 May, early morning: Students gather at East Sands beach at dawn to take part in the traditional May Dip as the sun rises. Some people stay up all night before, while others wake up early in the morning to head down to the beach. May Dip usually involves running into the cold North Sea, but you don’t have to go in if you don’t want to! You can also be your friends’ designated photographer or look after their clothes on the beach if you do not fancy a swim.
First aiders will be at the beach from 3.30am. They will be based by the Cheesy Toast Shack and will be easy to identify in their high vis uniforms. The coastguard will be stationed along the beach to provide assistance in the water if needed.
Cold Water Shock
- The temperature of the North Sea in early May is less than 7°C, and can be as low as -2°C in the early morning. Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement.
- Cold water shock causes an increased heart rate and the blood vessels in the skin to close leading to an increased resistance of blood flow. This can cause heart attacks in even relatively young and healthy people but extra caution should be taken in those with preexisting conditions.
- Cold water shock causes gasping for air and can lead to water inhalation. Even if you seem fine, secondary drowning can occur up to 48 hours after water inhalation and seeking medical attention is vital.
- You can reduce risk by taking a minute to adjust to cold water before swimming, keeping calm while in the water, and wearing a wetsuit.
- Cold water shock is usually brief and getting out of the water and breathing will quickly resolve the initial shock.
- After about 10 minutes, cold incapacitation can occur, leading to decreased strength and loss of ability to swim or pull yourself out of the water.
- Call 999 if you see someone with the signs of heart attack, severe water inhalation or cold incapacitation. Even after being removed from the water, people can be at risk of post rescue collapse or secondary drowning, so always seek medical attention if in doubt.
- Find out more about cold water shock from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI).
It is extremely important to stay warm during May Dip!
- Wrap clothes with a hot water bottle while swimming too keep your clothes warm.
- Always take off wet clothes before putting on dry ones.
- Bring loose clothes, a hat, and a thermos of a warm drink.
- Sugar raises your body temperature, so bring a light snack to eat after dipping.
- Light exercise (walking, jogging) also creates body heat.
While East Sands is usually calm, strong wind and weather can cause dangerous rips.
Rips are strong currents that run out to sea. If you get caught in a rip, don’t try to swim against it, if you can stand, wade don’t swim, swim parallel to shore until you’re free of the rip.
Always check the tide tables before swimming!
Alcohol impairs temperature regulation and can also impair the ability to judge how warm/cold you are.
41% of drowning deaths between ages 15-29 are alcohol related so be extra cautious.
Be sure to follow keep warm tips if drinking no matter how cold you feel.
Some people choose to have a bonfire on the beach before dipping. This can be a great way to keep warm, but it is important to remember some fire safety tips!
- Keep fires as small as possible
- Don’t burn driftwood – it's saturated with sea salt and can release harmful chemicals when burned.
- Don't use pallets as firewood -- when burned, their nails are left behind in the sand and they become a hazard to people and animals.
- Don’t cover remains with sand.
- Make sure the fire is out completely before leaving unattended.
Commonly press photographers attend May Dip. Most are just trying to capture fun traditions, but some tabloids will target topless people or skinny dippers.
Many students will write negative or rude slogans about common tabloids to try and avoid this but there is no guarantee that you will not be photographed.
Respect Your Space
Leave No Trace: It is important to respect the environment that we live in and sustain it for generations to come.
- Be sure to dispose of any waste properly (cans, bottles, food packaging).
- Don't forget to grab all your clothes, towels and other belongings when you leave.
- If you started a fire, make sure all wood and coal has burned to ash.
- Check out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for information on your rights and responsibilities when using public outdoor spaces.
Beach Clean Up: Volunteers will gather on the morning of 1 May, after most May Dippers have left, to clean up the beach and collect any items people leave behind. We have now closed signups as we received plenty of responses, so thank you to those of you who have volunteered to help! Volunteers: check your emails (from president@) for information on where and when to meet.
- Please try and take all your belongings with you when you leave the beach!
- If you leave something behind, register your lost item(s) with the University’s lost and found system.
- All the items our volunteers pick up from the beach will be logged in the University system, and your lost item report will be checked against the found item logs.
- If a match is found, you will be emailed to arrange collection.
Sober May Dip
If you're teetotal, have exams, looking for people to dip with, or simply don't fancy drinking or staying up all night for May Dip, join GotLimits for their sober dip!
We will meet at 4am under the cover of the small gazebo outside the union, with snacks and hand warmers to share, and will walk to East Sands together at 4:30am for a chill morning swim.