Be ready for anything in the new year with a "2011 Official Patch of Courage," awarded to all the hardy folks who immerse themselves neck-deep...

Be ready for anything in the new year with a “2011 Official Patch of Courage,” awarded to all the hardy folks who immerse themselves neck-deep in Lake Washington at Seattle Parks and Recreation’s ninth annual Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.

More than 1,000 people of all ages are expected to brave the cold water at Matthews Beach Park, along with their fans and supporters, and registration is required to earn your badge, so come early; carpools or arriving by bus suggested. It’s a festive event, with creative costumes encouraged, and warm beverages are provided. Jump in at the more low-key “Polar Cub Club” dip for younger folks or anyone who needs a bit more room first. The official group plunge is at noon; some adventurous folks do both.

Other locations for an audacious dip into the chilly lake (with like-minded others) include Mount Baker Beach’s traditional, low-key event organized by park neighbors, and a Renton Parks plunge into the lake at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, complete with lifeguard on duty.

General tips for cold-weather dips: Don’t stay in the water more than 15 minutes, don’t fortify yourself with alcohol (it accelerates hypothermia), and if you have medical concerns, consult a health-care professional before taking the plunge. All events are free, no preregistration required. Happy new year!

The details

Polar Bear Plunge

Time: Noon Saturday, registration opens 11 a.m.

Location: Matthews Beach Park, Northeast 93rd Street and Sand Point Way Northeast, Seattle.

Getting there: From northbound Interstate 5, take Lake City Way exit to Northeast 95th Street, turn right, then right on Sand Point Way Northeast, and left on Northeast 93rd Street. From southbound I-5, take Northgate Way exit, turn right on Lake City Way, left on Northeast 95th Street, right on Sand Point Way Northeast, left on Northeast 93rd Street.

Details: www.theofficialunofficialpolarbearplunge.blogspot.com or parkways.seattle.gov/2010/12/16/polar-bear-plunge-set-for-january-1.

Mount Baker Neighborhood Polar Bear Swim

Time: Noon Saturday.

Location: Mount Baker Beach Park, 2301 Lake Washington Blvd. S., Seattle.

Getting there: From I-5 northbound, take Exit 157, follow Martin Luther King Jr. Way, turn right on South McClellan Street, then left on Lake Park Drive South to the beach. From I-5 southbound, merge onto I-90 East via Exit 164, take the Rainier Avenue South exit, turn right onto Rainier Avenue South, left onto South McClellan Street, left on Lake Park Drive South.

Details: 206-725-0421.

Polar Bear Dip, Renton

Time: 11 a.m. Saturday.

Location: Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, 1201 Lake Washington Blvd., Renton.

Getting there: From I-405 northbound or southbound, take Exit 5, head west on Northeast Park Drive, turn right on Lake Washington Boulevard to the park.

Details: 425-430-6700 or rentonwa.gov.

Madeline McKenzie: 206-464-8245 or mmckenzie@seattletimes.com