U.S. Masters Swimming Steps Up In The Open Water

U.S. Masters Swimming Steps Up In The Open Water

United States Masters Swimming‘s Nadine Day was faced with a dilemma early in her tenure as the organization’s president. The cost to continue providing insurance coverage of open water swims had skyrocketed. It was a potentially devastating to the open water swimming community.

Day and her USMS colleagues – both staff employees and volunteer committee chairpersons – came up with a supportive solution that works in both the short-term and long-term.

USMS faced a significant increase in the governing body’s premium for comprehensive general liability insurance. “The increased insurance premium was primarily related to and impacted open water events. The insurance premium includes a charge of $135,000 that covers 75 sanctioned open water events per year ($1,800 per event),” explained Day. Furthermore, any additional open water events sanctioned by USMS, with its 58,000 members, will incur an additional premium of $1,800 per event.

In addition to the inflated costs, the new insurance policy requires certain conditions to be implemented by race directors in order to conduct a sanctioned USMS open water event. The insurance underwriter requires that all open water sanction submissions must be registered through the USMS online system, and a further second-level review to ensure that each race complies with the new sanction requirements.

As the requirements for a USMS open water swimming event sanction are more comprehensive, more costly and more difficult to meet than before, there are consequences to non-compliance.  The United States Masters Swimming president (Day) and executive director (Rob Butcher) have the authority to revoke an open water sanction for failure to comply with any safety or administrative procedure. USMS is in the process of hiring new Open Water Compliance Coordinators to confirm that the sanctioned adhere to the new safety requirements (see below).

Day explains the additional costs, “The purpose of the surcharge is to cover part of the $1,800 per event premium under the new insurance policy. The Board of Directors decided that USMS will fund $800 of the per-event premium. An open water insurance surcharge of $1,000 will be charged to Local Masters Swimming Committees (LMSC) for each open water sanction that the LMSC issues. Each LMSC will be billed by USMS monthly for any open water events sanctioned by the LMSC. The LMSC can determine how much of the insurance surcharge it will charge to the event host.”

This decision is a major financial support by the governing body for the sport of open water swimming.  Not only will the national office essentially pay for $800 per event, but each LMSC has the option to cover the remaining $1,000 insurance premium cost to the race directors. 

This kind of support is not available to the pool swimming community and is a potentially massive financial boon to race directors of open water events.  Imagine 75 sanctioned open water events are fully supported by the national office and each LMSC.  That support is essentially a $135,000 financial package meant to underwrite the costs of sanctioned open water swimming events from coast to coast.  When the six USMS Open Water Swimming National Championships are included (as part of the USMS national open water program), the total package can potentially be worth up to $145,800.

But there are exceptions to the open water insurance surcharge.  Solo swims such as crossings of the Catalina Channel, previously considered to be individual USMS-sanctioned events, are now required to pay the full $1,800 insurance surcharge, without any USMS contribution. Although USMS will cover the surcharge of its Open Water National Championships, if an Open Water National Championship also hosts additional open water swims in conjunction with the National Championship event, the surcharge will not be waived.

But the national office went even further to support the discipline of open water swimming. “The Board of Directors supported the concept of an open water grant relief program for LMSCs. The criteria for the grant program and an over-budget request to fund it will be prepared by members of the Open Water Committee and submitted to the Finance Committee.”

As the next steps, each LMSC is responsible to follow the new Open Water Sanctions Guidelines and will determine which open water events it will sanction for 2013 and the amount of the insurance surcharge, if any, it will charge to open water event hosts. This responsibility will potentially present difficult decisions for each LMSC:

* Do they underwrite open water events at all? 
* In the case where there is more than one open water swim, are all of the events underwritten, either in whole or in part? 
* Are the events financially supported equally or on some sort of pro-rata basis?  That is, are the larger events supported to a greater extent than the smaller events?  Are older events supported at the expense of events that were more recently established? 
* Are charity swims supported to a greater extent than non-charity events?  How are charity events defined?  Are events that support environmental or ecological entities, medical or research themes judged to be more important than events that raise money for non-profit swim teams?

When USMS was faced with increased insurance premiums, it stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. Its leadership and those in its related committees researched the market and acted quickly to shape a well-reasoned and balanced response.  The national office reached out to race directors from New York to California in order to grasp the current situation from the perspective of event organizers.  “I know this was a very difficult process for all involved and especially for those who are very invested in the open water aspects of our sport,” summarized Day who had won 4 consecutive Waikiki Roughwater Swims in Hawaii as a teenager. “I am encouraged by the spirit of cooperation and determination that so many of our volunteer leaders displayed.”

The United States Masters Swimming open water swimming guidelines are posted here. The key new regulations include the following:

1. Each motorized boat operator that is in support of the event or a participant in the event must provide to the USMS National Office a certificate of insurance for $1,000,000 per occurrence and $2,000,000 aggregate naming USMS, LMSC, event host, volunteers, and sponsors. The Certificate of Insurance is required 24 hours prior to the event.
2. Each volunteer boat operator that is in support of the event or a participant in the event must provide to the USMS National office proof of insurance. The proof of insurance is required 24 hours prior to the event.
3. All propeller driven motorized boats, regardless of hired or volunteer, that are supporting the event must have a propeller guard or prop guard. The Event Director must inspect all watercraft prior to the event.

Photo shows the finish of the Midmar Mile, the greatest gathering of masters swimmers in the world.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones