Dangers, Risks: Who's Responsible In The Open Water?

Dangers, Risks: Who’s Responsible In The Open Water?

Imagine the scenario and the implications…

It is late at night. It is dark out in the ocean. The swimmer is feeling good, gradually making her way across the channel.


She is hit. Hit hard like being slapped with a thick piece of wood.

She experienced a shark encounter. No one saw the shark coming: not her pilot, not her crew, not her kayaker, not her observer. Not even the swimmer herself.

This scenario brings up important issues in the sport of open water swimming:

1. Who is responsible for the safety and protection of the swimmers?
2. Who is ultimately and practically responsible for the safety and protection of swimmers in any ocean swim or lake competition?
3. Is it the governing body or observer?
4. Is it the race director or safety officer?
5. How much responsibility is placed on the swimmer? Does it matter what the swimmer’s age is?
6. Does signing a waiver make any difference in the responsibility?
7. What is the concept of duty of care?
8. Does having a pre-race medical check-up help reduce potential problems? 9. What are the experiences of individuals in the sport in different countries and legal jurisdictions?

What other sports put its athletes at risk of encountering deadly creatures, from sharks and orcas to jellyfish and sea snakes? There are a wide variety of creatures in the open water swimming world that can lead to tragedies: from alligators in Florida and hippos in Africa to leopard seals in the Southern Ocean and needlefish in tropical seas.

But as more and more individuals take to the water, there will undoubtedly be an increasing number of encounters between humans and marine life as well as issues ranging from hypothermia and hyperthermia to heart attacks and pulmonary edema.*

So how does the open water swimming community handle its concept of duty of care from the perspective of race directors, governing bodies, safety personnel, volunteers, corporate sponsors, coaches, kayakers, paddle boarders, lifeguards, support crew, pilots, observers, and swimmers?

This topic will be discussed at the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference. A series of discussions and scenarios will continue on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

Photo shows Shelley Taylor-Smith swimming in the tough elements of the Atlantic City Around the Island Swim.

* Several cases of pulmonary edema have been reported in recent swims.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones