Reasonable or Unreasonable in the Open Water?
Safety is always the most critical aspect of open water swimming. Since most open water swimming by a vast majority of swimmers is done in training, we thought of 10 different scenarios that we have faced over the decades of swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
Here are some of the scenarios below and concluded with a “Reasonable” or “Unreasonable” verdict and advice that we follow.
Do you agree? If not, why not?
- Swimming in the fog
- Swimming into your escort kayaker
- Swimming while bleeding
- Swimming between another swimmer and their kayaker
- Swimming over kelp beds
- Swimming through piers
- Swimming alone
- Swimming with waterproof headphones
- Swimming with windsurfers and kiteboarders
- Swimming with surfers
Scenario 1: Swimming in the fog
Description: occasionally, fog or a marine layer or an inversion layer settles down on the surface of the ocean, lake, or bay. While some swimmers – with a mix of confidence in their own skills and their experience in that particular body of water and a bit of machismo – enter the water without hesitation or fear, this is a scenario that we always recommend avoiding. There are enough inherent risks in open water swimming and to add the inability to see – or be seen – while swimming in a thick fog bank is unreasonable in our opinion.
Not only can you lose your bearings in a thick fog (“where is the shore? Where did I enter the water?”), but also marine vessels cannot see you.
Of course, some veteran open water swimmers say that they stop and use all their senses to determine which way to swim and how to avoid trouble, but those swimmers who can really feel the way the currents are running and the true direction of the ocean swells are few and far between among the general population of swimmers.
Best Advice: Do not get in the water in the first place. Wait until the fog lifts or save your swim for another day.
Scenario 2: Swimming into your escort kayaker
Description: On a long training swim or a channel swim or any kind of marathon swim, there are swimmers who accidentally and unintentionally swim right into their escort. kayaker or paddler. Yes, it is a bit embarrassing, but it does happen when the swimmers loses focuses or is tired and disoriented. An experienced kayaker will be sufficiently separated from their swimmers except during a feeding or in an emergency or in the presence of a specific danger (e.g., rocks, jetties, marine life), but there are times when the swimmer seems to take a few wayward strokes and smacks right into the kayak.
Best Advice: Use an experienced kayaker who can remain focused for long periods of time and knows your swimming abilities well. These individuals can generally and quickly get out of your way – or at least raise their kayak paddles quickly enough so you do not get hurt by a paddle.
Scenario 3: Swimming while bleeding
Description: Occasionally, you might run into rocks, a jetty, a pier, flotsam or jetsam while swimming in the open water – or cut your feet if you step on glass or shells on the shoreline. You get scratched or cut and blood starts to ooze out your skin. In these scenarios, it is best not to get in the water, especially if you are swimming in an area of known shark activity or the water is slightly polluted. You do not want your open wound to get infected.
Best Advice: If you are cut before you get in the water, do not get in the water. Wait until the wound is healed and save your swim for another day. If you get cut while you are swimming, access the situation and either head towards shore or hop onto the kayak (if possible).
Scenario 4: Swimming between another swimmer and their kayaker
Verdict: Unreasonable with exceptions
Description: When there are many escort kayakers and swimmers in a mass participation race or marathon swim, there are occasions where a swimmer may unintentionally swim between another swimmer and their kayaker. On the face of it, especially if the distance between the other swimmer and their kayaker is small, or they are rounding a turn buoy, this is a very uncool move. It is very poor open water swimming etiquette.
However, there are occasions when the distance between the other swimmer and their kayaker is larger. Swimming between these two individuals is done unintentionally and does not impact the swimmer. While it is best to be avoided, this is an accidental and understandable navigational error on everyone’s part.
Best Advice: Steer clear – when possible – of another swimmer and their kayaker. If you find yourself in an unexpected sandwich between another swimmer and their kayaker, take a few quick head-up strokes and apologize verbally to the kayaker and the swimmer. Give them a nod, a wave, and a smile, and the navigational mishap should be overlooked. Apologize again to them after the swim, if possible.
Scenario 5: Swimming over kelp beds
Verdict: Unreasonable, sort of.
Description: Ideally, we like to make zero impact on the marine environment. But there is always an impact whether it is using synthetic sunscreens or . When swimmers encounter kelp beds (giant areas of floating and underwater seaweed), they can either swim around the kelp or swim over the kelp. Most swimmers do not like the feel of kelp on their skin and prefer to swim around the kelp beds. But sometimes, encountering the kelp cannot be helped – except for reversing direction and then swimming well wide of the kelp beds that can range to several hundreds of meters across. While we have never experienced skin irritations due to encountering kelp, sometimes different kinds of marine floura can cause itching and hives.
Best Advice: Try to identify the location of the kelp beds or marine flora before entering the water and swimming clear of the area. If not, then try to minimize your impact by avoiding the kelp and floura as much as possible.
Scenario 6: Swimming through piers
Description: Swimming between the pilings of a pier can be considered to be a fun challenge, but there can be all kinds of barnacles on the pilings or discarded fishing gear (e.g., hooks, fishing line) hidden underneath and between the pilings. Furthermore, if there are strong currents or ocean swells running perpendicular or at an angle of the pier, you can be pushed unwillingly into a hard surface. Avoid at all costs.
Best Advice: This advice is an example of “do what I say and not as I do” as we admittedly have swum underneath piers in our more fearless, reckless youth. But we would not advise that or do it now.
Scenario 7: Swimming alone in the open water
Description: For a few seriously minded marathon swimmers who are in hard training, they admittedly (if quietly or confidentially) swim alone in the open water on occasion. But they usually do so along a well-known stretch of coastline where other beachgoers are present. This advice and conclusion is an example of “do what I say and not as I do”. However, the standard rule in open water swimming is to never swim alone under any circumstances.
Best Advice: In the rare cases where experienced swimmers train alone in a body of water that they are very familiar with, it is still always the best advice to tell someone where and when you are swimming, or better yet, have someone on shore watching them, whether it is a family member, friend, lifeguard or unfamiliar beach-goer.
Scenario 8: Swimming with waterproof headphones
Description: It is for good reason that the Marathon Swimmers Federation and other governing bodies from the English Channel to the Tsugaru Channel in Japan do not allow waterproof headphones during an official swim. The music or podcast can cause the swimmer to miss hearing critical bits of audio – whether it is the words of an escort kayaker or the sound of a propeller or the whistle of an official.
Best Advice: Use of the waterproof headphones is best saved for pool workouts.
Scenario 9: Swimming with windsurfers and kiteboarders
Description: While most swimmers enjoy swimming in tranquil waters, it is great training to swim in windy, wavy conditions. However, when the winds come up, the windsurfers and kiteboarders tend to come out to enjoy their sport. While boaters and yachters have a better vantage point to see swimmers in the open water, windsurfers and kiteboarders tend to have zero or minimal awareness of a swimmer in the water as they zip along the surface.
Best Advice: Avoid getting in the water when windsurfers and kiteboarders are also in the water. They will not see you. Wait until they leave the area or save your swim for another day.
Scenario 10: Swimming with surfers
Description: surfers are lined up offshore along the surf break, waiting to catch waves. The presence of surfers indicates the beach is generally safe and well-known to beach goers. Swimming right outside the surf break enables many sets of eyes to watch you while you are swimming. If something goes wrong, the surfers are generally fit and capable of saving you and lending their surfboard to you in the case of an emergency. Their knowledge of the currents, tides, water temperatures, wave action, winds and underwater hazards (e.g., reefs, rocks, old pillons, etc. are unparalleled and the best possible source of information area, outside of veteran ocean swimmers very experienced in the area.
However, it is best to swim head up both out towards the surf break when going out and while swimming back into shore.
Best Advice: Talk to the surfers onshore and seek their advice before getting in the water. The same advice is relevant when lifeguards, boaters, and fishermen are present.
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