Open Water Swim Safety Rant
I’d just like to mention a few things about OWS Safety. From Spring through Fall in the Northeast, triathletes take part in open water swimming to be more comfortable and conditioned for their races. Swimming in the open water presents different challenges than you encounter in the pool.
First, there are no lane lines, or black lines at the bottom to help keep you swimming straight. You also can not always put your feet down and stand up. Next, there are the elements. These include not just the weather (rain, glaring sun, wind…), but currents, choppy seas, animal life, etc. Last, but not least, there are boats.
It is very important when planning any OWS, that you understand the situation and are prepared to deal with the challenges of the location you are going to be swimming in. You need to know the ability level of all the swimmers that will be taking part in the swim. You need them to know what to do in case of emergency, and have a plan of action if one occurs whether the swimmers know it or not. If you are a coach, you need to, at the very least, be First Aid and CPR Certified. You should always swim with a partner! If that is not possible, you should swim at a location where Lifegaurds are present, swim towing a floatation device, or consider not swimming that day. You never know what can happen, even if you’re an Olympic swimmer.
When swimming with a group, there should always be someone in a kayak supporting the group. This is for a number of reasons.
1 – A kayak is faster if you need to get to someone in trouble
2 – You have more visibility in a kayak to keep track of all swimmers
3 – You create more visibility for any boats that may be in the area. (it’s very difficult for a boat to see triathletes in the water in their dark wetsuits, even if they have bright swim caps. It is difficult in calm seas, and even moreso in choppy water.)
4 – A kayak can be used as a rest spot for swimmers in need.
For these reasons, and others, I find it to be irresponsible for a coach or organized group not to have a support kayak, canoe, or whatever. At the very least, someone should be towing a brightly colored safety floatation device. I can’t tell you how often I see groups go out into the open water without taking these precautions. They will say that they have experienced swimmers in the water as support, but one or two excellent swimmers, even lifeguards, cannot handle more than one person at a time. I will always be in a kayak when my athletes are swimming, and if I am in the water as well, there will be another experienced person in the kayak. I get angry when I’m out there supporting my athletes, and other groups do not provide there own support. In this instance I am compelled to look out for them as well, which takes my attention away from my athletes at various times, and makes for a less than ideal situation.
I urge you all to ask about safety and support before going into the water with any group. Take all the safety precautions possible if you’re going out on your own.
Just be SMART, stay SAFE, and you’ll have many races ahead of you!