What To Do In An Emergency Situation In Open Water Swims

What To Do In An Emergency Situation In Open Water Swims

While experienced and qualified first responders (e.g., race officials, lifeguards, military personnel or event staff) are usually quick to respond and are essential to the overall health and welfare of all participants, many of the first responders in emergency situations in open water swims are other swimmers.

Because so many swimmers help others in difficult situations, what can you do if you notice another swimmer in distress during an open water event (race, swim, competition, relay, triathlon)?

1. Wave both arms above your head and yell loudly to attract the attention from the trained professionals onshore or safety personnel on the water who can come to the aid of the distressed swimmer.

2. If the distressed swimmer is flailing, crying or screaming, remember your own safety. Reaching out to aid a distressed swimmer directly in their line of sight may enable them to climb, chock or somehow use you as a flotation device. In this situation, instead of one victim, there may now be two distressed athletes. In an emergency situation, swim up from behind them if possible. 3. If the swimmer is hyperventilating or otherwise in a state of panic, Their fears must be immediately addressed by action. The human respiratory system was designed for breathing first while speech is a secondary function. Breathing must take precedence before the swimmer can talk or explain what is happening to them.

4. If no one is around, begin swimming the individual to the nearest safe point or safety personnel if you are willing and able. If the swimmer appears to be OK and mentally stable, ask him about his condition and look him in the eye. In some cases, he may just need a reassuring voice and another human around in order to gain the confidence to help improve the situation.

5. If he wants to quit and go to shore and has sufficient energy and mental awareness, you may swim with him or stay with him until safety personnel arrives in a boat, kayak, paddle board or surf ski. Or, you may have to swim the rest of the way into shore with him, occasionally stopping for a rest or reassurance especially in extreme water conditions (where hypothermia or hyperthermia may be a potential issue).

6. If there is nothing nearby, try to keep the swimmer relaxed and continue speaking to them even if they are in a panicked state until safety personnel arrive.

7. If the swimmer shows little or no signs of consciousness, has a flushed face or is lethargic, swim up behind him and grab both his shoulders from behind. Tread water or do the eggbeater (water polo) kick as you keep his mouth above the water surface and his spine in alignment.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones