Rules for Lightning/Electrical Activity during an open water swim race

KarahNazorKarahNazor ChattanoogaMember
edited May 2017 in General Discussion

Does anyone have their plan for electrical activity typed up for an open water swim race? I need to make an official plan and am seeking advice. It's 30 mins after last lightening I know that. But how many times should you delay and get back in? How do RDs safely remove all swimmers and pilots from a course? How long should you wait if it's cold?


  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    I just observed a relay this past weekend that ended up getting called because of a storm. While we didn't have visual confirmation of lightning, we had indications from our phones that there was lightning 6 miles away from us. We pulled the active swimmer, and ended up shuttling everyone to shore, at which point the swim organizer decided to call it, and I agreed.

    For a solo swim, I would plan on getting swimmers on their kayaks, and instruct the paddlers to go to shore.

    That said, I'm sure that there are people who have more documented plans than me, so I'm curious what they say.

  • KarahNazorKarahNazor ChattanoogaMember
    edited May 2017

    Here is what I came up with. Input anyone?

    Severe Weather Plan for Open Water Swimming

    Chattanooga Swim Festival

    In case of lightning or other severe weather, the motor boats patrolling the course will announce to swimmers and pilots with a bullhorn and long whistle blasts to clear the course. The kayakers will alert their swimmer and others nearby with a long whistle blast to clear the course. Each kayaker will be given a whistle and a flag to help get the attention of their swimmer and other kayakers nearby. There is a lightning detector or weather radio available on site.

    To Clear the Course

    All swimmers and kayakers will immediately exit the water on the immediate right side of the river where it is possible to climb out and wait on land.

    Swimmers and kayakers will wait at that location for 30 minutes. If there is no lightning detected for 30 minutes, the race directors will decide whether or not to resume the race. The motor boats will communicate the time that all swimmers shall enter the river to swim again.
    Maximum time willing to wait for a warm weekend in June =

    River Evacuation Plan

    If lightning is detected within 30 minutes, the race directors may decide to cancel the race at which point all swimmers and kayakers will need to be transported via motor boat to the finish line at Baylor.
    Philip - transport to start if closer - but what about people’s cars?

    Cell Phone Communication

    Each kayaker shall be provided with a list of the race director's phone numbers and motor boat pilots' phone numbers in case they need assistance. Likewise, all motor boats will have the pilot’s cell phone numbers. Kayakers should plan to have their phone on their person charged and in a dryproof case or dry bag in case of emergency.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin

    Admin note: We received this from an experienced open water event director, who asked that it be posted to this thread.

    A few thoughts on lightning....

    We are fortunate to live at a time with so much information at our fingertips..

    There are many great weather apps with real time radar that make tracking violent storms easy. To employ the 30 minute rule as many outdoor (and indoor!) pools do is lazy, and errs on the side of ridiculous.... but at the same time it's easy to understand why the directors of facilities would subscribe to such over-caution.... no one wants to be responsible.

    After my wife and I were hit with the ground current from a strike not 10 feet away from us I read as much as I could about lightning. There are a lot of foolish practices.

    During a storm, a lifeguard chair is a much greater target than the pool or the ocean.

    Likewise a boat is a more likely target than a swimmer. To pull swimmers and have them wait out a storm on a boat is worse than continuing the swim unless the boat heads close to shore where there are tall structures. Larger and newer closed cabin boats will have protective grounding, but smaller open boats will not. A narrow body of water that is flanked by tall trees, buildings, cliffs, is protected enough and if everyone is level headed a swim can continue without interruption. Take precautions as per the link below.... lower antennas, etc. A more exposed course should take a few more things into consideration:

    • Direction and speed of the storm. Read the radar. If your paths are not going to cross, it doesn't matter what it looks or sounds like. Having said that, there needs to be a consensus between the principal parties as to the decided action.

    • Some people will never be comfortable if they can see or hear a storm even if they are not in danger....It's probably better to bail out than have a full blown meltdown on hand.

    • If there is a good chance of a collision course everyone should seek the best shelter available. Swimmers picked up; paddlers to shore, boats to shore, preferably where they are not the highest thing in the area.

    Boat tips:

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    One thing I'll add is that it's really important to make sure the swimmers AND the volunteers know what, exactly they should do after they swim to shore (everyone seems to get the "get out of the water" part right...)

    I was at IM Lake Placid volunteering at the swim the year a huge thunderstorm came right overhead... and it was CHAOS. Tons of conflicting information, athletes running around everywhere instead of actually seeking shelter, different volunteers telling the same athlete different things (most of that was a "do we go out on our bikes now? do we wait and get back in the water?" which doesn't apply here). But a two minute announcement while the athletes were all milling around before the start would have solved most of it.

    (My house has been hit by lightning twice, while I was in it. It's f'ing scary. Thankfully we didn't have a fire either time.)

  • With regard to 30-minute rule, that seems ample time for swimmers to chill down.

    Doing jumping jacks or pushups for 30 minutes might not serve the purpose.

    So perhaps a swimmer facing the possibility of a lightning interruption should bring a lightweight torso-covering shell, one that packs small, and ask kayaker to retain it? (My old bicycling shell is good for not much else but this.)

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    Last year at ENDWET, we faced the possibility of storms during the race. They left it up to the swimmer and kayaker as to what we wanted to do: We could get out and wait out a possible storm on shore or keep swimming. Either way, the clock didn't stop, and you were encouraged to do what you felt safe doing. The river is narrow, with steep banks (in some places) with trees and shrubs above us. My kayaker had a helmet (maybe not helpful with lightning, but good for hail) and I advised him I'd keep swimming no matter what came our way. We saw it as a tactical advantage- everyone else gets out, I keep swimming. Seems practical to me!

  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member
    edited May 2017

    Perhaps against good judgement, I went to the beach last week during Seattle's annual thunderstorm and swam. We were between squalls when I got in, but shortly after I did, another front moved over and I got to watch the bottom light up a few times (really cool looking!). So it gave me some time to have a very focused think about the risks. Here's what I came up with:

    • If I get out (like one is "supposed to", then I'm standing on an exposed beach, cold and wet, at a higher elevation than I currently am at. That sounds like the worst possible plan.
    • If I keep swimming, my elbows are the highest thing around, except for the beach, so maybe no high-elbow drill right now. There are't even inches making me more of a "target" than a boat wake.
    • I'm in salt water, and I'm mostly salt water, so there isn't any reason I'd be more conductive than the surrounding salt water. This is the opposite in freshwater, where stray 120v AC current at a marina can kill because humans are more conductive than freshwater.
    • That's all very interesting, and while I was thinking about this, the storm moved on and the sun' come back out.

    Also, Electrofishing for Whales.


    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • SydneDSydneD Senior Member

    This was the rain/thunder/lightning/hail during the Lago d'Orta last summer.
    As you can see, um, I just kept swimming.

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    I spent many years on a small sailboat much of it in the open ocean where there is nowhere to hide. I'm a believer in rational caution. I agree with most of the aforementioned re. you're probably ok to keep swimming. My main concern is a water surface strike which is likely to knock you unconscious, which can be bad. That said, my usual rap to my pilot is; "If you start to think "Oh, shit, this is bad" then let me know. Otherwise we keep swimming". Here's some articles to peruse:

    And for the numbers/physics geeks here's some maths:

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