A little-known polar dip has become a community tradition in Cape Elizabeth, where about 150 people gathered on the morning of Jan. 1 to take a plunge in the ocean off Kettle Cove.

The polar dip, in its 17th year, raises money for the annual Project Graduation chemical-free celebration for graduating seniors at Cape Elizabeth High School. The Water Extrication Team in the Fire/Rescue Department, which consists of 20 members providing surface water rescues and emergency response, sponsors the dip each year.

Capt. John Norton, a member of the water-rescue team, said those who participate in the dip are asked to make a minimum donation of $10 and the annual event generally raises about $1,000 for Project Graduation.

Norton, who has participated in the dip before but who led the countdown for the charge into the water this year, said, “We have a lot of people who return every year. It’s really a lot of fun and has become a real community tradition.”

The dip has never been called off for bad weather in the 17 years it’s been held, Norton said, and people have dipped when the weather was a fairly balmy 45 degrees, as well as a frigid 20 degrees with a cold wind blowing.

Norton said the key is to have a towel and warm clothes all laid out on the beach ready to get into as soon as the dipper leaves the water. He said that people of all ages take part in the dip every year. This year, the oldest dipper that Norton was aware of was 87.

Sisters Morgan and Katie Turner, 11 and 9, respectively, were visiting family in Cape Elizabeth and decided to take part in the dip, as did about 10 other family members.

Morgan Turner said she tried to “mentally prepare,” but had no idea how “really, really cold” the water would be and how “hard it would be to actually jump in.”

Katie Turner said when she first arrived on the beach she asked herself, “Do I really want to do that (jump in the water)?” However, after the experience, both girls said they would definitely do it again.

John Greene of Scarborough has taken part in the Cape Elizabeth polar dip for all 17 years and has taken a dip in the cold Atlantic every New Year’s Day for the past 30 years.

Greene said the first time he took part in a polar dip, he did it on a dare, but “once I got rolling, I just can’t stop.”

“I have to be here,” he added, saying that other returning dippers expect him to always be on hand. Greene said while the water temperature rarely changes, the challenge of the dip year-to-year is what the air temperature and other weather conditions will be like.

“Once you get out there, it’s fine,” he said. “Your feet take the brunt of it, but I always go barefoot and do a complete submersion. I like to be the last one out of the water, if possible.”

Greene said the hardest challenge is to double or even triple dip. It’s much better, he said, just to get in the water and stay there, than get out and jump back in again.

About 150 people took part in the annual polar dip to benefit Project Graduation at Cape Elizabeth High School on Jan. 1. The dip, held off Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, is sponsored by the town’s Water Extrication Team.The Turner sisters, Morgan, 11, left, and Katie 9, joined “a whole gang” of other family members on Jan. 1 to take part in the annual polar dip held at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth.