What happens when things go wrong

curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

I had a great swim this weekend with my kayaker guiding the way beautifully as she always does. It was a perfect morning on the lake and so we both enjoyed the moment. Later that evening we were discussing what a fun morning we had and my kayaker mentioned that she realizes every now and then that she isn't really paying attention to me. She knows the rhythm and sound of my swimming and so she doesn't really watch me all that closely.

She said that one thing she does is always stay aware of exactly where she is in case I slip below the surface. Then she would at least be able to guide rescuers. We talked about the recent news of the swimmer lost in the English Channel and we wondered how that could have happened. And then we talked about our own preparedness.

I think generally, as long distance swimmers, we have a hard time conceptualizing that you could ever have a problem in the water. Speaking for myself, my main concerns are getting hit by a motor craft or maybe getting too tired to finish. Both of these concerns are addressed by having my kayaker by my side. It's actually inconceivable to me to believe that I would have a situation in the water that I couldn't deal with. (Now there's a problem.)

Our kayak is rigged with a safety flag along with the usual kayak safety gear. Plus we have an extra life preserver for yours truly. Our safety plan is that if I feel anything wrong, we get that life preserver on immediately and ask questions later. So that's just fine and dandy for nice and easy planned failures.

But here's my question for discussion. What happens when things go south in an unexpected manner? Regarding the channel swimmer. He looked like he was in great shape and perfectly capable in the water. He had safety craft and observers. And he disappeared. Looking at myself, what happens if I have an aneurysm, for example. On land, I slump over at the dinner table face first into a pile of spaghetti. In the water, it gets a little more dire.

So for discussion sake. Have you had a bad moment during a swim? Was there any warning sign? What happened and what did you do? What kind of safety preparations do you normally take? What kind of practicing would be a good recommendation? Regarding practice, my kayaker took a kayak safety class that was very helpful, but it was kayak specific and not really geared toward swimmer support. Perhaps that would be a cool class to develop and set up. Maybe we can start developing recommendations based on this discussion.

I don't want to be morbid here, but we participate in a sport that is a little deceptive. It's fun and harmless, but a screw up can lead to death. I think we'd all prefer to avoid a premature exit if possible. So put your MSF thinking caps on and let's see what we've got.

MvGLakeBaggerevmo

Comments

  • LaurieLaurie New Member

    I know most races do not allow them, but I like the use of the safety swim buoy. Not only gives better visibility of the swimmer but provides some security “ just in case”.

    SwimUpStream
  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member

    @curly great post— it’s not enough to have someone (or some equipment) with you “in case something happens”, you need a plan for what the someone is going to do, and practice helps ensure that the plan could actually work. I really like that your kayaker has a pfd for you, especially since it’s set up to function specifically as a life saving device.

    I haven’t had a “bad moment” (yet). But my kayaker and I have discussed and practiced various contingency plans related to different scenarios.

    For instance, we have practiced seeing if I can get into his (one person) sit on top kayak from the water, without dumping him out if it. It was worth practicing. It’s not that fun riding on the bow of a kayak for any distance, but can be done. It might be hard to get into the kayak if I’m already having a major problem that makes it so I can’t swim (shoulder injury, hypothermia etc).

    Yesterday, he got in the water with me and I practiced having him float on top of me (lying on our backs), while I held him with one arm and swam with the other. (In case he were to get dumped from the kayak, and have the problem, rather than me).

    This post has me thinking about things we haven’t practiced, but should: 1. him towing me while I hang onto a pfd; 2. what would happen if I were unconscious— can he attach me to the pfd and tow me while paddling with one arm using the other to keep my face out of the water? Curious if there is a proper technique for this scenario? Looking forward to other responses!

    evmoKatieBuncurly
  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member
    edited July 2023

    @LakeBagger said: what would happen if I were unconscious— can he attach me to the pfd and tow me while paddling with one arm using the other to keep my face out of the water? Curious if there is a proper technique for this scenario? Looking forward to other responses!

    Get the kind of pfd designed to float an unconscious person face up. They're not comfortable for things like kayaking, but they work. Also make sure both of you know how to get you into it and that the straps are correctly adjusted for you.

    ETA this very helpful info:

    https://www.precision-performance.com/blog/5-types-of-pfds-personal-flotation-devices--23269

    LakeBaggercurly
  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Senior Member

    This is a discussion I've had with myself often, for 2 reasons: (1) Organizers of massive swims think of wetsuits as safety devices, so sometimes it's difficult that they allow you to swim without; (2) Organizers always say they have a bunch of boats patrolling around, but then you realize that if a massive evacuation was required, it would last for hours. (I'm a Naval Architect, and that is exactly what happens (what would happen) if a big cruiser had to be evacuated: you can have all the means ready, but it takes a lot of time for execution - due to lack of practice and because it physically takes time.)

    I'd split the discussion in 2 sections:

    (1) Bad weather: It is very very difficult to get into a boat with 1 meter waves. And the manoeuvre depends on the type of boat (freeboard, layout of the board, bulwark or stern...), your fitness level, the skills of the skipper... In order to be ready for the occasion, you and your crew should practice many many many times.

    (2) You get ill: Of course a PFD is a must, and you have to be able to put it on fast enough. I don’t think a kayaker can help you from the kayak without rolling over, unless your "illness" is mild and you can get into (or on) the kayak, as @LakeBagger said (he/she could get in the water to help, but then you'll lose the kayak, the paddle, or both). If you are escorted by a boat, then someone can dive in and rescue you, but again, getting a "dead weight" (you won't be of much help to force you on board) into the boat is hard! There are devices for this.

    If (1) + (2) happens... Well then you need professionals with their devices, and good luck.

    I'm very pessimistic if something would happen and I can't get on land by myself. I have my towfloat. It may help me float long enough if I'm not disabled; or at least it'll help rescuers find me easily after a while.

    @LakeBagger said:

    2. what would happen if I were unconscious— can he attach me to the pfd and tow me while paddling with one arm using the other to keep my face out of the water?

    I’ve tried to paddle with one arm only. It’s feasible, but you go veeeeery slooooooow, and you can’t apply power to the paddle. You’d need your swimming paddle (or a kayak with pedals).

    LakeBaggercurly
  • NZL1NZL1 AucklandNew Member

    Aside from being hit by a boat (I tend to swim in quieter areas to minimise this risk), my biggest fear is sudden onset of SIPE. Never happened to me (so far) but that’s always in my mind when I pause for a mid-swim ‘self health-check’.

  • SwimUpStreamSwimUpStream Portland Oregon Member

    I’ve been on both ends, rescue swimming a hallucinating swimmer back to a boat and being rescued myself when hypothermia set in. But self rescues are the key in our sport. In my early days of cold water swimming, my vision began to fail on one particular swim. It slowly blurred in a tunneling fashion to purely fuzzy light with no definition. I was smart enough to tell the kayaker and focused on hearing the paddles splash. I was both panicked and calm..which is hard to explain. My vision returned more vividly as I warmed. I’ve since had the occasional vision issue Swimming, but only in ice water. I’ve always believed it’s good to practice self rescue, team rescue, and hypothetical thinking. Swamping boats, towing swimmers, scouting emergency exits, as well as following the instructions of others is something you want imbedded into your muscle memory.

    curly
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member
    edited July 2023

    @NZL1 said:
    Aside from being hit by a boat (I tend to swim in quieter areas to minimise this risk), my biggest fear is sudden onset of SIPE. Never happened to me (so far) but that’s always in my mind when I pause for a mid-swim ‘self health-check’.

    Interestingly enough, that was one of the conditions I was pondering when I wrote my original post. I think about those times where you suddenly are at the mercy of the gods. Here's an interesting article about SIPE. I think it had some good observations about causes, what to watch for and also some solutions.

    One of the concepts was about traditional pre-loading and what may or may not help. A suggestion was to use sildenafil ahead of the swim. (OK, the jokes just write themselves here, but I will refrain because this is a serious thread.) This is a weird coincidence because I was talking to my doctor recently about a touch of Reynaud's syndrome that I battle when the water is a little cold for me. As I age, my circulation ain't quite what it used to be. He told me about the veins being not as flexible and how this is contributing to the problem.

    Of course, that got me to thinking about stuff and I thought, maybe sildenafil would correct this issue. Then my mind immediately went into the gutter and I thought about potential resistance to my forward progress in the water... OK, sorry, but really I just crack myself up. But in all seriousness, this may be a clever solution to a couple problems. And yes, people laughed at me years ago when I seriously suggested that hallucinogens might be great way to help Alzheimer's patients. And now they are researching just that very idea. So there!

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