U.S. Lifesaving Association On Open Water Swimming

U.S. Lifesaving Association On Open Water Swimming

At the Open Water Swimming Conference, U.S. Lifesaving Association president B. Chris Brewster spoke forcefully about open water safety based on his decades of ocean safety experience.

The fact that this event today was organized is inspiring. The fact that it was inspired based on a sense that someone had to do something is troubling. In some places, the wagons are circled.

So there is work to be done by those of us who genuinely accept a need for change. The simple reality is that it’s far more complicated, more challenging, more labor intensive to keep people safe in an open water swim than in a run, a bike race, or some other land-based competition. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible

The U.S. Lifesaving Association reported that almost 83,000 rescues from drowning were reported in 2009 while it found that the number of deaths in lifeguard protected areas is one for every 18 million people in attendance.

Chris explained…and extrapolated , “We think that is a good record. We wish it were even better. I don’t know the average attendance at an open water swim event, but if the average attendance is 300 and the same safety record were applied there should be no more than one drowning death for every 60,000 open water swim events. Are there? But that’s not really a fair comparison. Those who appear at beaches, those 18 million are mostly not athletes, but a random mix of good swimmers, mediocre swimmers, poor swimmers, and even nonswimmers. At organized open water swims, the quality of swimmers should be better, the intangibles less so, and so the safety record should be better yet.”

There is a standard procedure used by open water lifeguard agencies in the United States for rapid search and recovery of missing swimmers. It requires planning, personnel, and equipment at the ready. It has been tested and implemented in the breach, for while 1 in 18 million is a good record, we know too well we must also plan for the 1.”

The U.S. Lifesaving Association offers at no cost its Recommended Minimum Guidelines For Open Water Swimming Event Safety. These Guidelines (posted towards the bottom of this page) were assembled by professional lifesaving agencies from around the United States who have overseen open water event safety for decades.

Chris said, “Those standards involve separating safety oversight from overall race management, pre-event safety planning taking worst case scenarios into account, providing lifeguards in adequate numbers to observe and respond, personal escorts in some cases, adequate medical services, adequate observation platforms, rescue boats, a command center, and many other critical aspects. What the U.S. Lifesaving Association offers is our help and support in creating norms and standards that truly, genuinely, sincerely make safety the priority. It may not be cheap. It may not be easy, but if you are organizing these events, you need to make sure the participants are safe.

Let’s leave here with a commitment to do right by the athletes. They are placing their trust, their safety, their lives in our hands. We owe it to them to get it right

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones