How Many Strokes Should I Take When Sighting In Open Water Swimming?

How Many Strokes Should I Take When Sighting In Open Water Swimming?

One of the most difficult questions to properly answer in the sport of open water swimming is, ‘How many strokes should you take before sighting in open water swimming?’

To answer this question, it is important to know what sighting is.

Sighting is the act of seeing and navigating in an open body of water, generally towards landmarksturn buoys, an escort boat, kayaker, or the finish. Sighting includes lifting your head to look ahead, to the side or behind in order to decide the optimal direction to swim in an open water swim or triathlon

The answer is dependent upon many factors:

* the number of swimmers around you

* the relative experience and proximity of the swimmers around you

* your familiarity of the course 

* your self confidence in the general direction you are currently swimming 

* the relative position of your escort boat, escort kayaker, or escort paddler 

* the relative position of the coastline or other familiar landmarks

* the shape of the course

* the distance to the next turn buoy, turning point, or finish

* your level of navigational IQ (i.e., your ability to swim straight)

* conditions of the water

Let’s look at each of these factors:

Number of swimmers around you

If there are many swimmers around you, the direction of the pack is generally spot on as several other swimmers will be sighting on behalf of themselves and the pack.  Conversely, if there are few or no swimmers around you, you will have to depend on your own navigational IQ and skills.  

In generally, if you can swim straight, then 50-100 arm strokes every sighting may be suitable.  If you cannot swim straight, then 10-25 arm strokes every sighting may be more suitable.

Relative experience and proximity of the swimmers around you

If the swimmers around you are experienced and familiar with the course, then you can depend on their skills, and breathe towards them.  In this case, you can reduce the frequency of lifting your head during the race.  Likewise, if an experienced swimmer is swimming parallel to you, make sure to breathe towards them.  Especially if you can see them sighting for themselves, then you can reduce the frequency of sighting on your part.

Familiarity of the course 

If you are familiar with the course, then you can reduce the frequency of sighting and lifting your head.  Conversely, if you are not and find yourself swimming on the course for the first time, then sighting and lifting your head more often is advisable.

Self confidence in the general direction you are currently swimming 

If you feel confident that you are swimming in the right direction, then put your head down and swim more streamlined with good body position and head position.  Conversely, if you are not confident, lift your head to sight more.

Relative position of your escort boat, escort kayaker, or escort paddler 

If you can see escort boats, media boats or safety personnel in boats, kayaks or paddle boards around you, then they are generally positioned heading to the right direction.  Follow their lead and sight much less frequently.

Relative position of the coastline or other familiar landmarks

If you are swimming around a river or in a coastal swim with a relatively straight coastline, then you can reduce the frequency of lifting up your head and sighting.  Simply, breathe normally towards these landmarks or coastline.

Shape of the course

If the shape of the course is easy (point-to-point or out-and-back) as opposed to being a complicated geometric shape or an irregularly shaped triangle or rectangle, then you can sight less frequently.  The more complicated the course or the more turns that are in the course, the more often you will have to sight.

Distance to the next turn buoy, turning point, or finish

If the distance to the next turn buoy or finish is over 500 meters, then you will have to sight more often.  

Level of navigational IQ

If you are able to swim straight, then sighting is less necessary.  On the other hand, if you veer to the left or right, then you will have to correct your course more often.  This will require more sighting on your part.

Conditions of the water

If there are large ocean swells or an oncoming or lateral currents or tidal flows, then you may be pushed off course.  In these cases, you will have to sight much more often.  

In summary, sighting can be as often as every 10th stroke if the conditions warrant such frequency of lifting your head.  On the other extreme, you can swim long distances without lifting your head if you can depend on others.  A happy medium between these two extremes, may be 50-100 arm strokes every sighting.

Good luck and see you onshore.

Copyright © 2021 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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