Building Safer, Stronger, Wiser and Faster
“Dynamic Open Water” Athletes
Swimming is an intellectual pursuit, and of all the disciplines ocean swimming rewards those who can take a vast amount of knowledge, an intimate awareness of every moment, and apply both to moving across the waves. Winter pool time is spent mastering lane etiquette, stroke mechanics and interval protocols beside turbulence decreasing lane lines, but summer is the time to enter the more intimidating world of wind, waves and wildlife. The best open water swimmers are not always the fastest, but rather those that can read, adapt, and embrace challenging conditions that can change in an instant. The ocean is not a place to put on headphones, program your watch, and just head through the waves. Dynamic Open Water – large bodies impacted by weather, waves, and currents – demand constant situational awareness to not only achieve a peak performance, but more importantly to stay safe. Long before performance becomes a goal, safety and returning to shore comes first.
Making sure every open water session begins and ends well, requires planning and situational awareness combined with the knowledge and understanding of environmental factors that can impact your experience in any open water environment. You must be informed and aware of the myriad of indicators that dictate when to go out and when to stay on shore. There is a reason the mantra of every ocean athlete is, “When in doubt, don’t go out.” Over the coming months, the Ocean Wise Series is going to give you the resources, tools and insights that will make every training session, race or family outing to the shore safe and positive. Since more small groups, clubs, and training partners are looking out at the warming water as a training venue, our series starting point is best practices on evaluating conditions and making those critical plans on shore before getting your watch wet.
First Be Informed:
Forecasting and Current Conditions – Apps:
Forecasting and Current Conditions – Websites:
- NOAA NWS Rip Currents
- NOAA NWS Experimental Beach Forecast
- NOAA National Data Buoy Center
- NOAA Ocean Today Full Moon Series: “Ocean Safety”
Specific hazards and actions for coastal areas
All of the above provides the information to make the call on where, when or if to go. The challenging part becomes applying all that information to the planned workout at hand. Race and workout organizers should be looking at all or most of these factors long before they set up, but only the swimmer can determine their own limits. There are beach sessions with chest high breaking waves and 15 mph winds that some athletes will love, but these are NOT the conditions for the beginner who just finished their first full winter of pool workouts for their first triathlon. Often a new athlete won’t fully know their abilities until they are in a challenging new situation. Whether that situation is a race, or just a training session in a local lake, the presence of trained, professional lifeguards capable of making the right decisions and actions are critical. Certified coaches are trained to get you physically prepared for a race, but they may not have the training or capacity to act in dangerous open water situations.
Perhaps the single best advice for any open water outing is, “Be Aware.” When Dynamic Water and specifically the ocean is involved even the best forecasting tools predicting ideal conditions can be wrong or not prepare you for the speed at which a wind or tide change can impact what hits you in the water. Even if there is no rain / thunder / fog…at the moment you enter the water the best lifeguards, coaches and event organizers know to anticipate what the conditions may be minutes or hours later when you and your friends or perhaps thousands of people are now swimming far off shore.
There are a number of dangerous situations that most experienced ocean athletes know can come up, and this time of year cold water conditions and warming air mean dense fog is one of those. A fog layer can come up within minutes and swimmers just 100 meters from shore may no longer be able to see land. Any condition that affects visibility not only impacts a swimmer’s ability to see a buoy, but also a lifeguard’s ability to see the swimmers. Forecasting and information always come down to having the confidence and wisdom to stand by the mantra, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
Here’s a best practices timeline for making a call before any open water workout?
- Make a preliminary assessment the night before that should represent an 80% degree of confidence.
- Make a second assessment the morning of or roughly 2.5 to 1.5 hours before hitting the water with a 90% degree of confidence.
- Make a final decision at the shore with a 98% degree of confidence leaving that final 2% to the unexpected that may cut a swim short.
Be prepared for the 2% by adding in some protective factors:
- Always swim near a lifeguard
- Swim with recognized, professional open water lifeguards, coaches, organizers and race directors with safety protocols, training and equipment on-hand appropriate for the venue and environment
- Let people know where you are and when you are going in
- Always have an emergency exit and safe zone plan to get out of the water
- Tow or carry floatation or rescue tubes for visibility and support
- Dress appropriately for before, during, and after water time
Open water swimming is like mountain climbing in that no outing is a success unless you make it safely back home. The Ocean Positive Foundation and NOAA National Weather Service want to help you connect to our coastal areas and reach your endurance potential not just once, but again and again. The key to insuring you can have a long life of positive experiences on the water is to always Be Informed, Be Aware, and Be Calm before you act in, on, and near the water.
From the author:
As a NOAA Partner on Beach and Coastal Safety, Science and Conservation, I hope this series moves you forward as an Ocean Safe and Ocean Positive athlete and hero to others. Watch for more articles in the coming months on the Movement Sports website and digital editions and in social media feeds from NOAA National Weather Service, Bruckner Chase-Blue Journey and other partners to help make you the wisest, safest, and strongest athlete on the water.
Want to learn more or take part in creating a safer, Weather Ready Nation? Check out NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation program: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/
Bruckner Chase is a triathlon and swim coach, ocean lifeguard trainer, endurance waterman and ocean advocate whose marine and community endeavors have taken him to waters around the world is places such as Australia, American Samoa, Denmark, Greece and Poland. He is a global ambassador for the Lifesaving World Championship 2018 organizing committee, and he is the Technical Director and Media Ambassador for the Red Bull Surf + Rescue Championships. Closer to his home in New Jersey he is a member of the Sea Girt Beach Patrol and the founder of the Ocean City Swim Club. He is a professional member of the US Lifeguard Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Swim Coaches Association.
Bruckner’s athletic career spans the most challenging events on water and land. He competed as a professional triathlete, and he continues to be an elite level competitor in every endurance sport he takes on. On the water Bruckner has completed multiple ultra-distance swims and paddles in some of the harshest conditions imaginable: a record setting no wetsuit swim in Alaska, a 22-mile swim of Lake Tahoe and historic swims between the islands of American Samoa. Bruckner competes in professional surf lifesaving sports across multiple aquatic disciplines. He is the fifth American in history to compete in the iconic Coolangatta Gold Surf Iron Man in Australia, and in 2016 he became the only American to finish the event three times and the first to earn a spot on the winner’s podium.