Thursday, October 20, 2016

Swim Safely with Scottish Swimming

Autumn has definitely arrived. As we look at the leaves falling from the trees and swirling around in the wind, the calm summer days of the 2016 Open Water swimming season are becoming but a pleasant memory. Loch Lomond, Loch Venachar, the Helix Lagoon, Loch Ken, Knockburn Loch and more – there have been some great events set among the spectacular Scottish scenery. One of the things all of the swimmers have praised is the peace of mind they have at Scottish Swimming events because swimming safety is taken so seriously. We work in partnership with RNLI, RLSS and also have a network of qualified volunteers who ensure safety at all of our events. 

At the Open Water Swimming Championships at Loch Venachar this year, nobody was allowed anywhere near the water before they’d been given a full safety briefing.  This year Jim Gallagher was the man in charge and outlined five key lines of safety at the event:  you, the kayaks, the rescue boats, the first aid volunteers and the officials. Thankfully it is rare that we need to put rescues into practice but it’s so reassuring for swimmers to know they are there.

 1.   Yourself

Jim commented, “We’re out in the wild in a natural environment, which brings its own risks.  We’re experienced at dealing with those risks and have got numerous procedures to make sure the swimmers are safe in the water.  The biggest risk comes in dealing with cold water and knowing what your own capabilities are to make sure you stick within them.  We need swimmers to be realistic about their expectations and swim with that in mind because the first line of defence starts with the swimmer”.

 2.   Kayaks

On the water alongside swimmers at Scottish Swimming events are a good number of kayakers. Graeme White was one of them at Venachar and he commented, “Because our kayaks sit so low in the water, we can look out for tell-tale signs of problems.  Whether you are wearing a wetsuit or not, initial signs of hypothermia can set in and that usually means lots of erratic and strange movements from the swimmers.  Not regulating your breathing properly is another common thing we look out for – the more you get out of breath, the more you concentrate on breathing and not swimming. The slower you start to swim, the more likely we are to interact with you.  We’ll ask your name and some other questions and we need to get good responses or we’ll intervene.  When we see somebody we think is in trouble, we get the kayak in front of them so they’ve got something to hold onto.”

3.   Rescue Boats

Rescue boats are also on hand to put swimmers' minds at ease. Graeme White says that generally it’s the swimmers themselves who decide if they want to come out of the water, but if he thinks they’re not making good decisions, he’ll take over and call over one of the rescue boats.  The rescue boats are bigger and have engines – perfect for getting you back to shore quickly. 

4.   First aid tent

On hand is also a team of first aid volunteers. Lynne Graham and her colleagues were manning the First Aid Tent at Loch Venachar this year.  She says, “We’ll take you off the rescue boat and get you dry and warm you up.  Cold is really the main problem as most  swimmers have been training indoors but there is a big difference between a loch and a pool.   If you’re showing signs of hypothermia, it’s not enough to just get out of the water.  You need to get warm and dry, and we need to see your temperature return to normal and stay there.”

5.   Officials

The final line of safety is the officials who are looking after everybody on the day.  At a basic level, they’re counting the number of swimmers who go into the water and making sure the same number of swimmers come out of the water at the end.  But more than that, they’re monitoring the water temperature, the weather conditions and have spent the hours and days before an event making sure nothing is left to chance. 

Despite all of the safety procedures, Jim says “One of the challenges with open water swimming is the variety in the conditions you can swim in.” It is this diversity that makes open water so appealing, creating a new and different swim every time. Jim comments “The more difficult the conditions, the more swimmers will come out of the water.  But I don’t know of any swimmer who hasn’t been taken out of the water at some point – there’s no shame in it whatsoever.” In fact one swimmer, Linda Jordinson, who came out of Loch Venachar last year went on to win a 2k race for her age group this year at the same venue. Linda commented “It’s really important to recognise that when you are in open water, if something is not right, then stop and come out. It’s always better to swim safely”.

Our approach to safety is also one of the reasons why open water swimming events are definitely ones for spring and summer and not autumn and winter. But if you’d like to take the plunge next year and try open water in a safe environment, register your interest in our 2017 events now to get priority booking.

We have an open water pool training session on 13th May in Stirling, a Come and Try session at the accessible Helix Lagoon in Falkirk on 20th May and the Loch Venachar Challenge on 13th August. We will notify you immediately when the bookings go live and keep you posted about similar events coming up during the year.

(Article courtesy of Anne Kane)