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When Open Water Swimmers And Boaters Intersect

One of the world’s absolutely best open water swims, the Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, the organizers provide numerous safety procedures and policies that are world class based on their decades of successful, safe swimming.

One of their safety issues relates to the protection of swimmers in the water. The Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean provides customized prop guards so swimmers cannot be cut by boat propellers.

These are especially important because the professional marathon swimmers who compete in the Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean and other professional races not only swim closely to one another, but the athletes’ coaches also direct their boat drivers to get close to their athletes which means that boat propellers and swimmers can be dangerously close proximity.

In the heat of competition, a few coaches think only of their swimmer without regard to other swimmers in the race. Additionally, over a long marathon swim, anyone can get a bit inattentive and accidents can happen.

In order to prevent any potential problems and unintended accidents, the far forward looking organizers of the Traversée wisely installed prop guards many years ago.

Similarly, Tom Hecker, a renowned channel swimmer, has proposed use of the Prop Guard because of his own close calls with propellers during his swims.

It happened after I completed my Straits of Gibraltar swim. I was approaching the Zodiac where my driver, lifeguard and wife were. The driver was positioning the Zodiac next to the pilot boat while preparing to transfer the lifeguard, my wife and supplies to the pilot boat and while I was swimming in from the shore. I approached the driver from behind on his right side. The driver was concentrating on the transfer. The two boats separated when a wave hit, so he gunned the motor to get the boats closer. His attention was on the transfer and the position of the boats. At that instant the swimmer was forgotten. I saw the prop spin in front of my hand as I was taking another stroke. My wife screamed and the motor and prop were stopped. That instant could have been disastrous.”

These situations happen more often than most people realize, both in solo channel swims and relays and in races around the world. Tom asks, “Perhaps a Prop Guard at US$250 should be mandatory on all swimmer support vessels?”

We recommend the following when boaters and swimmers intersect on the open water:

When a boater is caught in a pack with swimmers all around (left, right, front, rear), do not panic. Take the boat out of gear, turn the motor off, wait until the swimmers are safely clear, and then resume operations. Because the prop may still turn with the boat our of gear and the motor off, consider putting the boat back in gear (with the motor off) to stop the prop.

There have been plenty of times when a boat loses steering control and has turned into a group of swimmers. Because of these situations, emergency actions should be reviewed in the Captains meeting. While constant vigilance is always the primary goal, there are moments and situations occur that are inevitable, such as when the sun’s glare reduces a pilot’s view, waves causes problems or there are mechanical difficulties.

When swimmers and boats are in close proximity to each other, getting the prop stopped and making the vessel safe should be the primary concern. While swimmers may swim into the vessel which can hurt, having them get hit by a spinning prop is disastrous.

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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