When A Fin Is In The Water

When A Fin Is In The Water

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming asked a question to the global open water swimming community: If sharks approach a marathon swimmer, should the swimmer be allowed to board their boat and then subsequently be allowed to return to the water when safe?

The results were as follows:

• Yes: 231 votes (59% of the total)
• Only if there were a lot of sharks: 7 votes (1%)
• It depends: 31 votes (7%)
• No, it is against the rules: 84 votes (21%)
• Only in specialty swim and not in the major channels of the world: 36 votes (9%)

While marathon swimmers face many obstacles: cold water, rough water, warm water, hyperthermia, jellyfish, currents, tidal flow, darkness of night and distance, the threat is a tough one for all swimmers.

To see a shark fin in the water is a harrowing experience that not all swimmers and escort boat personnel have experienced in the open ocean. In our experiences, a swimmer and escort crew can do the following actions to minimize the danger associated with potentially aggressive sharks for those swimmers who do not wish to be pulled from the water:

1. Know the marine environment. Understand what kinds of sharks are living in the location of the marathon swim.
2. Establish a plan of what to do before the incident occurs and confirm all members of the escort crew know and can execute that plan.
3. Have a Shark Shield floating shortly behind the paddle board or kayak nearest to the swimmer. If there are two kayakers or paddlers, use a Shark Shield on both watercraft.
4. Gun the engine if the shark gets closer or is seen off in the distance.
5. Bring the swimmer closer to the escort boat – very close. Preferably close to the area on the boat where the swimmer can be pulled out immediately. Of course, if the water is turbulent, the pilot will use his/her judgment as to the proper and safe distance.
6. Have the kayaker(s) or paddler(s) get close – very close – to the swimmer, almost at the point of touching.
7. Have the kayaker be prepared to use the paddle as a blunt instrument of defense. Use it with strength and precision if possible.
8. Do all these safety procedures without alerting the swimmer. The crew should endeavor to prevent the swimmer from panicking and thrashing about in the water.
9. No one on the escort boat should point and yell shark. The goal is to immediately address the situation without panicking the swimmer. This is why experienced marathon swimming coaches do not recommend family members board the escort boat. It is extremely difficult for a mother, father, daughter, son, spouse or partner to observe a shark while on the escort boat and not panic or yell that may cause the situation to get worse.
10. Add another kayaker or paddler if only one is in the water at the time.
11. Pay close attention to and closely follow the orders of the pilot who best knows the local waters. Do not question his/her judgment – that is why the swimmer places his/her trust in experienced pilots.
12. Pull the swimmer as necessary, either on the kayak, paddle board or escort boat.

In the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands in New Zealand, it is reported that 1 in 6 marathon swimmers encounter sharks. But as Philip Rush says, “Fish life is well fed and only come around to be nosey.”

May these actions never be necessary on your swim, but this knowledge must be pervasive among your support team.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones