Event Safety – from Ned Denison

Ned Denison took the time to give some thought to the responsibilities of swimmers and organisers in OW events. Well worth a read.

Event Safety

This is a consistent issue as we all need organisers and swimmers to keep this as their number one objective.

I see the two most important things as:

1. Each swimmer is up to the challenge of the swim
2. The organisers have the courage to cancel the swim (minutes before the event – if they are not 100% confident about swimmer’s safety…and swimmers to accept these calls (with gratitude).

Then we have the safety plan, the number of water-based safety boats/kayaks (and quality of the crew), check-in/out process and on shore volunteers/safety crew. While important – these two above are much more important.

Let’s start with the swimmers.

The SAFEST events require recent performance at a similar distance. The upcoming Dock swim, for example, requires:

“YOU MUST HAVE COMPLETED AT LEAST 1 X 5KMM OPEN WATER SWIM THIS YEAR TO ENTER.
DO NOT use this event as your first skins swim. If you are swimming skins, you must be properly acclimatised and have been swimming for a minimum of 2 hours consecutively this season.”

Your 5KM swim last year in Greece in 25C water doesn’t prepare you for 14C in Cork. The Dock swim isn’t a swim for you to increase your personal best distance from 2KM.

This requirement is in place for the safety of every swimmer, water-based safety crew and on-shore volunteers/safety crew. EVERY aborted swim introduces DANGER. Think about a slightly panicking 15 stone swimmer grabbing the side of a kayak. Or think about how hard it is to get that same swimmer into a rib – without seriously damaging their shoulder – or the backs of the crew. We now have a boat (with a propeller) in the swim path of others. Then you have possibly the high-speed trip to the start or finish (with the swimmer) – again along/through the swim path of others. Maybe the swimmer climbs out on the rocks (cut up and possibly bashed by waves) and a boat needs to try and get close enough to extract (is a crew member jumping out to help?). In all cases, EVERY aborted swim draws safety EYES off the rest of the swimmers – and lowers the safety cover for all.

It isn’t hard – get yourself to the ocean ahead of the swim and do your 5KM. You want safe? How about in 1 meters of water (back and forth) at Inchydoney Beach.

There are other events (in rivers, along gentle beaches, point to point, with more safety craft) which will have lower qualification levels.

Or, at a different time, get your own safety rib and crew and do that same swim as your personal best. They can focus 100% on your safety.

In endless safety briefings I also talk about your condition on the day: just out of the hospital, worst chest infection, etc. The swimmer needs to do a sane self assessment before registering and before getting wet.

Then the courage of swim organisers to cancel – even at the last minute. Yes, you drove 3 hours for the swim and planned your entire weekend around the event. Rest assured that every organiser REALLY wants their event to happen. There are hundreds of things to drive a last minute cancellation: waves which are judged to increase the difficulty beyond acceptable safety for ALL the swimmers (yes – they were fine for you – but not for the least experienced 25% of the swimmers), any hint of fog, 50 meters of deep brown sea foam across the course, 2 of the 4 ribs with mechanical difficulties, 3 folks buzzing about on jet skis who will not yield, heavy rain/hail which reduces visibility, 10 swimmers show up drunk and will not accept to give the swim a miss, the water temperature dropped to 11C in the last day, oil slick, very bad farm run off, 2 big basking sharks, lion’s mane/Portuguese man of war, thousands of stinging compasses, large fishing net adrift across the course, etc.

Kudos to the Myrtleville organisers who delayed the Church Bay swim by a few days – after they warned in advance of possible severe weather. They took some abuse from a few swimmers (which is just nonsense).

Open water swimming is getting more and more popular. We have more than 150 marathon swimmers (10KM or greater epic swim) in County Cork. The events are getting more popular and larger. In order to participate SAFELY in these events, you need to have a current open water swimming resume which proves that you are up to the challenge.

You can make and increase the quality of your resume – you need to if you want to enter longer events.

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