What Level Of Risk Is Acceptable In The Open Water?

What Level Of Risk Is Acceptable In The Open Water?

After reading today’s article on protective swimwear (see here about the dangers of swimming in waters with box jellyfish), marathon swimmer Bob Needham asked the following profound questions:

What amount of risk to a swimmer is acceptable in the sport?

When does exposing yourself to a certain level of risk considered “foolish”?

These are questions that the Daily News of Open Water Swimming will look into some depth over the next month, from the perspective of an athlete (of various ages from underage children to older adults), a family member (spouse, parent, child), a coach, a race official, a race director and a governing body.

From the perspective of an adult over the age of 18 who attempts a marathon swim or a channel swim, the answers to these questions can be more complicated than simply a question of how far is a swimmer willing to go.

The safety of the swimmer is the responsibility of the escort boat captain and coach on board. This is the fundamental assumption and basic tenant of the sport and of maritime tradition. If a swimmer pushes himself too far and a dangerous situation occurs or a death is the result, the ultimate responsibility shifts from that of the swimmer to that of the escort pilot and coach.

Even though some athletes may tell their crew, “Don’t pull me out unless I go under,” this statement may be more bravado and a bit of self-motivation than an actual reflection of the reality of the situation out in the open water. Because athletes want to maximize their potential and complete their task at hand, “Don’t pull me out” must be viewed as a figurative statement rather than a literal one.

We believe an escort boat pilot and coach are directly liable for an athlete’s well-being, especially if they watch a swimmer drift into a state of hypothermia or hyperthermia, their skin color changes, their stroke count drops precipitously and their mental acuity changes. They must know enough about the athlete and of the dangers of hypothermia and hyperthermia to immediately stop the athlete and pull them from the water before they sink or have a cardiac arrest. Pre-race instructions like “Don’t pull me out unless I go under” are to be immediately discarded if the athlete says it on shore.

The sport is better off by treating each and every athlete with the utmost care and attention, encouraging the athlete to reach their athletic potential within the realm of not irreparably harming themselves.

Over the course of the next month, the Daily News of Open Water Swimming will consult with attorneys to report on the legal ramifications of athletes who wish to or who actually go too far.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source