What Does A Safety Delegate Do In The Open Water?
FINA, USA Swimming and other governing bodies have added a new position to their open water swimming organization structure. This new position is called different terms by different organizations, but the function and purpose are generally the same.
Known as a Safety Delegate, Safety Monitor, Safety Officer or similar terms, this individual is meant to be an independently-minded and independently acting person who helps create, plan and execute a safety plan (both onshore and offshore) for an open water swim.
Based on years of practical experience and knowledge of the venue, they take into account the race course layout, local government permits, laws and regulations, type, number and location of safety equipment (boats, kayaks, paddle boards, Jet Skis, stand-up paddle boards), type, number and location of turn and intermediate buoys, weather and water conditions, type of communications (in terms of devices, number and location of the personnel using them), age, abilities and backgrounds of the swimmers, size of the field, availability of rest areas or feeding pontoons, tides or currents, water quality, proximity to onshore medical care, marine life and experience and size of the event staff and volunteer crew.
They are present at the race to assure the approved safety plan, including all emergency and contingency procedures, is implemented. They assure that adequate safety precautions are in place to deal with race-day conditions whatever they may be (e.g., fog, lightening, extreme water temperatures, winds, pollution, marine life including jellyfish, Portuguese man ‘o war, sharks) and they roll-play possible emergencies and contingencies.
They also have the authority to withdraw the sanction on race day if adequate safety precautions are not in place and they notify the race participants of the sanction revocation prior to the beginning of the race in the case that the race organizer or swimmers want to proceed with the competition.
And most importantly, in some jurisdictions, this individual has the authority to postpone, modify or cancel the race – before or during the competition or even after the first person(s) finish the race – if they judge it necessary if conditions change and safety becomes a concern.
They work hand-in-hand in pre-event planning with the Medical Officer and Race Director and any local government agency or governing body with jurisdiction over the venue and race itself.
If nothing happens during the race, they have done a good job. If something happens during a race, an immediate and proper response following the implementation of emergency or contingency plans are the hallmarks their work. After the race, the individual should review everything that occurred during the race and make recommendations for improvement, if necessary, for the subsequent year’s race.
In other words, a lot of responsibility rides on the shoulders of these Safety Delegates. If nothing happens, they blend into the fabric of the race. But if something does happen, they spring into action and well thought out plans are executed.
Photo above shows the feeding station and the types of safety watercraft used at the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California.
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