The Hazards of Sea Kayakers as Safety Boaters for Swim Races

by Nancy Soares on June 11, 2012

by Wayne Horodowich

(Editor’s note: Wayne Horodowich is the founder of the University of Sea Kayaking. USK was conceived in the 1980’s and officially founded in January of 2000 to enhance and promote sea kayaking. The USK website has 100’s of pages of information on sea kayaking. To check out the USK website, go to

The University of Sea Kayaking

The University of Sea Kayaking

Recently I received an e-mail from subscriber Moulton Avery regarding his experience with so-called safety boaters that supported swimmers doing a race across the Potomac River. He raised numerous safety concerns. In reality, the safety boaters were more of a liability than an asset.

Early in my career when I was so impressed with my new found kayaking skills I figured why not be a safety boater for a swim race along the Santa Barbara coast. What I LACKED was real experience! I can briefly tell you that I was forced to capsize my kayak because a hypothermic swimmer climbed on my kayak. While sitting upright behind me he wrapped his arms around me because he felt unstable. He actually pinned my arms to my side. I reverted to my old lifeguard training to get out of the situation, which was to take him under. I let the kayak flip over. I figured he would let go and he did. I then did the fastest roll I could muster and when upright I paddled away from him. (Thank goodness I had a competent roll and he didn’t keep me from rolling and he let go of the kayak.)

While I kept my distance away from him we had a verbal exchange. As a side note, he kept swimming towards me in a panicked manner (I was back paddling at the time to keep him from touching my kayak again). Once he calmed down I was able to assist him in a manner that met both of our needs until the motorized launch came along. (15 minutes later. Some help from the launch- huh?)

I believe the vast majority of so-called kayak safety boaters (for swim races) are untrained for the potential challenges that can occur during a swim race. In addition, the normal safety gear we carry as sea kayakers is insufficient for supporting swimmers. I am sure many of us have horror stories about safety boating for swim races and we can bitch about it for hours on end.

Rather than rant about the risks of safety boating, I would rather use this forum to hear from the rest of you regarding your thoughts about what type of training safety boaters should have and the equipment they should carry while providing support for swimming races.  Here is a chance to put our collective experiences together and create a safety list of training and equipment.

I am presently writing an article on this subject from my experiences as a safety boater. Your experiences and thoughts would be great very helpful. In addition I would like to take our collective thoughts and present them to the ACA & the BCU as recommendations.  I am hoping that my article will enlighten other sea kayakers as to the real dangers of safety boating so they will think twice before they volunteer.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Soares June 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

Attaboy, Wayne! Take him under! Seriously, it’s a good thing you had lifeguard training.

Having had experience with a panicked swimmer myself after crashing a double in surf (long story, don’t want to go there) I can say that it is interesting to me how some swimmers who are allegedly in distress can swim extremely vigorously. I guess the adrenalin kicks in and gives them strength. Unfortunately, as your example suggests, instead of using that strength to self-rescue, they cling on to whomever is attempting to assist them, thus endangering everyone. In my case, my partner was swimming strongly but freaked out and started clinging onto my arm while we were in a powerful longshore current, making it tough for me to swim to shore. Luckily the tone of my voice made her let go.

I know that talking calmly while staying out of reach to get the swimmer to relax and gain control while waiting for help is not always an option for a safety boater, but it should probably be the first line of defense when feasible. And lifeguard training would be good for all safety boaters.

Thanks for a great article on a pertinent subject!


Jeff Bedford June 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

I’m sorry you had a bad time with your event. My experiences have been totally the opposite. for 9 of the last 12 yearas I have done the Escape fron Alcatraz as a swim support kayaker. Some years have been better organized than others, but I have always had a great time. The piece of advice from the origional post that is critical–for any swimmer/rescue kayaker situation– is to take control. Get eye and voice contact and make sure they are doing what you direct them to do BEFORE you let them grab on your boat. We do this with kayakers needing assistance re-enterying, swimmers are not any different.
Most organizers make this clear at the begining in a paddlers meeting–sorry they didn’t for you.
I would encourage all kayakers with decent skills to do one of these events and see how much fun they can be. There is probably one at a local lake this summer that wouldn’t be a big challenge for even moderatly skilled paddlers.


Jeff Bedford June 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

From a ‘leadership” perspective a good paddlers meeting is critical for a big or open water event. For something like the Alcatraz swim with 1,800 swimmers having 6-8 sub groups designated to take a specific location is helpful. The sub group leaders need to have the skills to see what is going on and reposition their group as necessary–more of a group management skill than a specific kayak skill.
Radios would be nice for large spread out groups, and for calling the jet skies or large boat.
Sometimes I add a longer loop to my front toggle so that they are not so close to the boat as they are hanging on. ( I like them on the front so I can see them, I only let someone on the rear if I am supporting 3 or more at the same time–doesn’t happen much) Other than that I don’t like much more in the way of equipment to get in the way. Ironically, our deck lines that aid our safety when we are out of the boat, are a liability when a swimmer grabs for the side of our boat.
I have thought about having the solid paddle floats, or lifeguard type boyancy devise, but it just gets in the way and haven’t had a time where my kayak hasn’t been all I needed to help them.
Good bracing skills are very helpful (or a big wide sit on top).


PeterD June 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

I have been doing safety boating in SF Bay for a few years now, doing over a dozen events per year (ranging from Alcatraz crossing to 4 hour laps of Angel Island). I have gone through the thought process on SOT versus SINK, and understand the pros and cons of each.

Without a doubt, a SOT would give you a lot more options should you have a person in real trouble. You can move around, get on and off easily, etc. But these swims often go through some serious tide rips and waves, which I would be much less comfortable doing on a SOT. Thankfully, I have not yet had that real trouble situation.

The sea kayak I have used makes me much more comfortable in the conditions, but without a doubt has serious limitations for when someone is having a real issue. I wasn’t near it, but few years back a woman had a heart attack during the Alcatraz Challenge (and unfortunately didn’t make it). If I was near her in my sea kayak, there wouldn’t be much that I could do besides stay near her and try to keep her head above water and get help ASAP. Maybe in a SOT I could drag her across my boat and try CPR. Though I suspect that wouldn’t have worked anyway.

Maybe the solution is a narrower SOT, like the old Necky Dolphin or a Tsunami boat. But the narrower beam which would make it better handle the conditions reduces the ability to have swimmers on your deck.

Truthfully, to me the larger issue is kayakers without the basic open bay kayaking skills being out there, usually at the larger events where the organizer is scrambling for safety boaters. The SF Bay area has a huge open water swim community, with multiple events going most every weekend day. They need a lot of kayak safety boaters. Seems they can’t always be choosy. I’ve had to rescue and tow in a kayaker who flipped in a borrowed boat and didn’t have his hatches sealed – not only was he not available to help, but he took me away from working the event also until I could get him in and return back out. Too often the kayakers aren’t wearing PFDs or thermal protection. And every one of the big Alcatraz events (which take place on strong ebbs), kayakers who don’t understand ferry angles and tides get swept downstream on their way out to the swim jump, so can’t make it on time.


Jeff Bedford June 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Peter brings up one of the reasons–real or imagined–that many people do not want to do assisted swims, that is the possibility of being held lible for a participants injury or death. If there were a class or certifiaction for this type of event would we be more open to legal action?

More hoops to jump through equals fewer participatents.

Lifeguard skills are great to have (at a cost of about $300) but when the Escape from Alcatraz had a big group of lifeguards join, they had sketchy kayak skills.


Fat Paddler June 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Very interesting topic! There are a few open water races held in Sydney each year and I’ve been asked to paddle in support of swims for every one of them (and I’ve politely declined each time). The Sydney races are open ocean and alongside giant rocky cliffs and submerged rock platforms, which means they are areas of sometimes extreme rebound and bombora waves. On a good day, no problem, but on a big swell day and the right tide conditions, the hazards for a kayaker are substantial.

Forgetting the legal issue, I take the actual safety of a swimmer far more seriously. I’m not at all confident that I’d be able to handle my kayaks or surfskis with a struggling swimmer onboard, so I don’t do it because I can’t guarantee that I’d even be able to help – a pretty serious shortcoming in dangerous conditions.

Furthermore, I think there are too many novice kayakers that attempt this out there. I once took part in a combined kayaking and open water swimming race (as a kayaker) and watched in horror at some of the companion boats that went along for the ride. I even saw an open canoe out there, struggling against 4 foot wind chop, and clearly in risk of needing rescuing itself.

Open swim races are great events, but I’m not convinced kayakers should be the ones on rescue duty. Lifeguards in IRBs or on jetskis with rescue platforms would be far safer – they are fast, responsive, can carry radios, and have no problems rescuing and extracting swimmers (or paddlers for that matter).


Nancy Soares June 16, 2012 at 7:45 am

I’m with you, FP! Excellent comment!


Nathan Moody June 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I really enjoy swim escorting for a bunch of reasons. The thanks you get from swimmers afterwards. Camaraderie amongst the regulars (hi, PeterD! :-p). Small payment subsidizes post-paddle suds. But I think that the lack of skilled paddlers who do escorts then brings in less experienced paddlers, and zero skill/gear requirements and often inadequate safety briefings exacerbate safety problems with the more novice paddlers who arrive to fill the headcount gap.

I’ve found so far that the smallest races have the best safety briefings for the most experienced paddlers. This, of course, is bass-ackwards. Perhaps it’s the chaos and many moving parts of larger swim events that prevents the large numbers of the least experienced kayakers getting briefed. The last one I did, one of the volunteer paddlers had to chime in with the whole “raise your paddle for a jet ski” thing, which the briefers didn’t even mention. These kinds of oversights just _decimate_ safety margins.

Having a firm demeanor, loud voice, and issuing commands BEFORE being within arm’s reach is critical. I instruct swimmers in simple, plain words to only grab the rope on the front of my boat (i.e., the toggle). If they reach for my bow, I go into evasive action and slip backwards, even ready to pry hands off my boat (Greenland paddles are great anti-finger tools!). Bad incidents with panicked swimmers do happen, as Wayne’s post suggests, and being aware that moment of contact is your greatest moment of danger is important. I’ve only heard one person ever say that anecdotally to me before my first escort event; such things should be standard info given out to all!

One comment about radios: It can be a real bear to get a message out through race-day chatter. But I can’t imagine not having a radio to listen to during such an event. There’s no other way to get broad information about being too bunched up, too spread out, too off course, or to stay quiet while real medical issues need radio priority. Unless it’s life-threatening, I signal with a raised paddle, and maybe my whistle.


PeterD June 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

Ok, I feel kind of bad. The original subject talked about by Wayne has hijacked, and I feel I was the cause.

Yes, there does seem to be other issues related to the SF Bay swim supports (and quite possibly, these are issues that are not seen in other places) due to the water conditions and quantities of swims requiring so many safety kayakers. But his original mention about how a sea kayak can not do a lot when you have a frantic swimmer or should something above needing to correct the direction of the swimmers or let them rest on a bow is quite true. Worth thinking about.


Jeff Bedford June 12, 2012 at 11:31 am

The question he got to was to get our experiences and our collective thoughts about training and equipment. Since there might be an article for ACA, BCU it seems logical that anything that might lead to a class or certification might be open for discussion.
To me it seems that the People running the events and kayak support leaders should have some training –especially for the more challenging swims.
topics might include: tides and currents, trip planing, how to write up a description of what is an acceptable kayak and equipment for this particular event, group management, knowing about types of boats and equipment and how to do a brief check so that there are no “dangerous” kayaks out there, appropriate signaling for the event. Maybe there should be a quick 1/2 hour class on how to be a swim support kayaker that would better inform first timers of the procedures.


Nancy Soares June 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

I agree, Jeff. A brief prep class hitting the major bullet points could be incredibly helpful and wouldn’t take much time or effort.


Leslie Thomas June 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

Hi Everyone, PeterD invited me to this forum. I run open water swims in San Francisco Bay. I am so grateful for the knowledgeable, reliable, competent kayak team I have built up and worked with over the past few years.

My view of the role of kayak safety support is as follows:
1) Keep a visual eye on as many swimmers as possible (simply so we don’t “lose” anyone)
2) Monitor swimmers for any signs of distress, panic, and cold
3) Notify the motor boat support should someone need assistance or medical attention
4) Tell the swimmers where to go / hold a line that the swimmers can follow without having to navigate themselves
5) Stay out of the swimmers’ way

On occasion, but rarely, my kayakers have “towed” a swimmer (swimmer holds on to rear of kayak) to break through a current or to reach a support boat. Also, my experience is that open water swimmers don’t know how to read the water as well as kayakers, sailors, and professional boaters. I often rely on kayakers to help determine the best jump position and gauge how to navigate the swimmers across a current.

Ideally kayakers are aware of the signs of distress and panic in a swimmer and must know how to talk them out of it. The basic instruction for a distressed or panicked swimmer is to turn on his/her back and breathe deeply while floating, but a panicked swimmer will most likely grab for a kayak if it is nearby. Kayakers need to be prepared for this – to manipulate out of the way in time or stabilize themselves for the impact. Very cold swimmers may think they are fine – kayakers should watch for the progression of hypothermia from numbness and duck lips (mild sign), the claw hand (moderate sign), slowing down (stronger sign), shivering (bad sign), and disorientation (very bad sign).

One mistake I see new safety kayakers make in guiding swimmers is setting a line appropriate to swimmers. Swimmers move much slower than kayakers, and they require a very different line when dealing with currents.

I only work with experienced kayakers and am willing to train them to work with swimmers. I now require that kayakers new to my group “shadow” another kayaker before being responsible for a group of swimmers. I require all of my kayakers to carry a VHF radio. Communication on the water is critical. I prefer that my kayakers carry and display dayglo orange safety flags. I do not require PFDs, though I probably should.

As Jeff Bedford mentioned, it is important that kayakers establish verbal and eye contact, give clear instructions, and only allow swimmers to hold on when the kayaker is ready and prepared for it.

Thanks for all you do.


Rick June 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

It seems to me that one cannot talk coherently about training requirements without talking about expectations or requirements. For example, it seems an obvious requirement that one be able to stay aside (within X feet) of any swimmer in any anticipated conditions. So training in boat control is required. That includes being able to hold position in those conditions. It also seems a requirement that one be able to maintain control of ones boat with a calm swimmer hanging on to the deck lines in all anticipated conditions.

It’s a little less clear to me after that. So, is it expected that one be able to minimize a hypothermic swimmers contact with the water by, say, dragging them onto ones deck? How much assistance from the swimmer should one reasonably expect? That is, should the training focus on assisting someone onto the (fore) deck, or bracing sufficiently so a swimmer can get on a deck? Both? Neither?

How about a panicked swimmer? How does one even identify one? Seems like some training there would be useful. Making the judgement that a swimmer is panicked and therefore potentially a risk to the boater seems sort of critically important.

A swimmer experiencing a heart attack seems also a reasonable probability especially since it’s actually happened. What is the expected/required/reasonable response for the safety boater? Carrying a defibrillator is probably not expected, but keeping their head out of water perhaps is. Doing that in the anticipated conditions might be harder than expected.

What about equipment? Assume a panicked swimmer one really doesn’t want too close? Should some buoyancy aid be available to throw to the swimmer be available? Can it be easily and certainly reached in all anticipated conditions? Can one actually open ones day hatch on the water?

It seems to me that this type of thing is ripe for some experiential education. I suspect it’s likely that a set of scenarios would go a long way towards identifying the sorts of things one might wish to be skilled in.


PeterD June 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Just to add some background to Leslie Thomas’s response – she is a swim coach and also swim event organizer. Her events are generally smaller (10-15 swimmers), and invariably have better trained swimmers. Of the dozens of her events I have done, it is rare to see any swimmer get pulled. This is very different than the large Escape from Alcatraz type events (which she doesn’t do), which have 300-1500 swimmers and a significant number of them will jump off the boat and decide within minutes that they want out.

Leslie’s events are generally “pod” swims, with a kayaker watching from 1 to 43 (rarely 4) swimmers who are supposed to swim as a pod in close proximity to each other (which the kayakers are allowed to enforce – making faster swimmers stop and wait). The Escape-type events use a row of kayakers on each side to guide the swimmer.

One area I’d add to Leslie’s list is that kayakers need to watch for pleasure craft who don’t know of the swim, and if necessary put themselves between the swimmer and pleasure craft. The large events have police and fire boats who can easily run down and stop pleasure craft, where Leslie’s have just 2 or 3 power boats. In busy days (start of crab season, etc.), sometimes a pleasure boat will slip between the pods, but with a kayak close by to the swimmers, they never get near to swimmers.

One concern I have with the large Escape swims is that the kayakers are so focused on keeping swimmers going the right direction at the edge of the pack (the “rows”), that a swimmer who has some sort of the issue in the middle of the pack may not be noticed. I was thinking it might be good to have a couple of kayakers in the middle (maybe short boats – even white water boats – so they can maneuver and stay out of the way of the swimmers) to keep an eye for the real problems.


Wayne Horodowich June 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I want to thank all of you who have shared your thoughts and experiences. It appears some of you have had very favorable experiences with swim race support. Over the years I have heard and still hear about untrained and unsuspecting boaters being involved in swim races. Often there is little or no guidance from the race organizers.

If paddlers are experienced and well equipped and have clear guidelines as to their role in the race the risks seem manageable. Unfortunately I don’t believe this is the norm across the country.

Again, your thoughts regarding skill sets and equipment needs for swim support is appreciated.


Moulton Avery June 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I recently participated in my first triathlon swim support event. There were hundreds of swimmers in the water. The swim leg was 750 yards, well marked, with a bunch of lifeguards on boards, one person on a SOT & a few motorized support boats. A friend and I were the only two “sea kayakers” in attendance. Some thoughts:

I’ve refrained from participating in these events in the past because I don’t feel I have the qualifications or experience to “support” a swimmer who runs into trouble, and more importantly, to recognize a potentially dangerous situation and intervene before it gets out of hand. I’m a sea kayaker, not a lifeguard. I haven’t had any training related to swim support, and this event did nothing to reassure me about my perceived shortcomings

The pre-race “safety briefing” was woefully inadequate and there was no post-race debriefing. The folks who ran into difficulty appeared to be poor swimmers with little or no open-water experience. I found my interaction with two distressed swimmers fairly harrowing. One fellow had a panic attack and damn near capsized me. It took a while to talk him down & I had signaled one of the motor boats to pull him from the race, but he decided to continue. While I was working with him, three other people attached themselves to various parts of my boat, fortunately in a much gentler manner than he had.

Another swimmer, whom I paced for roughly 300 yards, looked like he was going to take in a breath of water with every stroke. He was fairly winded, backstroking poorly, making very slow progress, constantly wandering off course, and periodically getting his face overwashed by small waves. Sputtered that he was OK every time I asked. Both of these folks finished the course without incident, but they left some of my hair standing on end for a while. It doesn’t take much water inhalation to cause a person to drown or to produce a life-threatening near-drowning incident that warrants immediate medical attention.

About an hour after the swim concluded, the wind picked up to 15-20 and conditions got much rougher on the course. “Support” would have been a really nasty business under those conditions. That said, the “elite” swimmers were nothing short of amazing, zipping through the water, straight as arrows. It was hard to believe they were doing it without some secret means of squid-like propulsion. The contrast between them and the folks who got into trouble couldn’t have been greater.

A very experienced (25 years) older lifeguard who participated in the event said this was a pretty good course for triathletes who lacked open-water experience. He did an extraordinary job of swimming next to the last person to finish; basically talking to her, giving advice & encouragement & guiding her into the finish line; a real pro, he had all the training & experience that I lacked.

From where I sit, the safety net for many such events appears threadbare. There is no formal training for kayakers, and many organizers appear only too happy to have kayakers show up and provide an illusion that the safety base has been covered. It’s in those cases that the phrase “a safety net that whales could swim through” leaps to mind. I think it’s both good and responsible to shine a spotlight on swims with threadbare safety nets, and also to support efforts to develop training guidelines for kayakers who wish to provide swimmers with support. No spotlight, no hope of change.

Finally, Fat Paddler makes an excellent point about the utility of motorized rescue vessels. Kayaks are limited by the skill and stamina of the paddler, and rough conditions can overwhelm them. In a recent rescue situation in an Oregon inlet, two jet skis accomplished in minutes what two very strong and skilled sea kayakers had been struggling to do for two hours.


Tony Chapman June 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Hello Wayne!

I figured you’d still be out there. My experience is with long distance swimmers and
short races. The short races occasionally result in cramps. but nothing serious. For long distance swimmers you need a light for night emergencies, glow sticks to guide the swimmer, a compass can help when you have no landmarks or stars to guide you, a first aid kit, food and beverage for me, and at least one PFD. One swimmer required me to toe a shark repeller, whch puts a pulsing electrical shock into the water and shocks me when I try to turn it off or get it out of the water!
Best wishes,


Kurt Thiel June 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Hi all,
I’m an old school marathon Open Water Swimmer, a currently certified Waterfront Lifeguard and a USA Swimming National Open Water Official. I’m also a relatively new Sea Kayaker trying to grow into my EPIC 18X Sport now that I understand why everyone called my Tsunami a “barge”.

Swim supports are great fun for Sea kayakers if we have the right race organizers. They need us to do the on the water surveilance not the rescues. I don’t think many boats can stay out with an open water swimmer as well as a Sea Kayak (with a competant paddler) when the conditions get to Small Craft Advisory levels and still be able to safely support the swimmer. As far as gear: I carry a big throw bag 75′ and lots of additional line, a pair of rescue swimmer fins, mask, snorkel, Rescue buoy (can), a rescue tube, VHF radio, GPS, compass, and the rest of the gear for my normal safe kayaking needs. I’m thinking about a stirup design to help the tired or sick swimmer climb on my back deck without my needing to “dry exit” and do a roll the swimmer on my deck drill. As I said I’m a certified Lifeguard and am more comfortable in the water than in my Kayak.

I’m also looking at a hybrid Sit-on-top kayaks may that have features that are better for swim supports than a full on closed deck kayak…just not certain if it will beat the strenghts of the sit in kayak.

Whatever your skill level as a Kayaker, be certain to go in with your eyes/ears open and know the swim event’s Safety Plan and EAP!



Nancy Soares June 18, 2012 at 7:17 am

Sorry, but I have to weigh in on the Tsunami is a “barge” thing. This goes back to the what’s the best boat conversation. I can totally see why someone paddling an Epic would call a Tsunami a barge, but if you want to surf, paddle rocks and caves, go on camping expeditions, and paddle relatively quickly in a straight line all in the same boat, it’s hard to beat a Tsunami X-15.

Re the safety boat issue, what I’m getting is that lifeguard training is a good idea. As we’re always sayin’, it’s better to be more comfortable in the water than in your boat than vice versa for any kayaker. Regardless of the cost of training (what’s the cost of your gear? A human life?) if I were to ever be a safety boater (I won’t) I would definitely brush up on my lifesaving training.


PeterD June 18, 2012 at 9:02 am


I suspect that Kurt was talking about the Wilderness Systems Tsunami boats, which are day touring sea kayaks, and not one of the Tsunami boats created by the Tsunami Rangers. Here is a link to the Wilderness Systems site and their boats:



Nancy Soares June 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Gotcha. I remember Eric telling me about when they started calling these boats Tsunamis and he tried to get them to desist, but it didn’t happen. Thus the confusion. Thanks for straightening me out, Peter!


Wayne Horodowich June 18, 2012 at 9:35 am

Again, I appreciate all of your comments.

I did want to reply to a comment made early on by Jeff. He indicated that saving a swimmer is just like saving a kayaker who is out of their kayak. I think the two are very different. Paddlers are wearing PFD’s and if they are with me they are in immersion gear. Most likely I will also have their kayak with me or near me as an additional asset.

A swimmer may or may not have immersion clothing and they are not wearing a PFD. When a swimmer needs help they are usually spent physically (energy wise or hypothermic) and likely to go into panic mode. A capsized paddler is rarely spent physically.

I just read an announcement for safety boaters for the NYC marathon swim. I checked the website and found that they provide a training session for the kayak support volunteers. I found this to be a good sign. I have no idea what the training involves, but the organizers are at least aware that extra training is needed for kayak support.

I also believe that some lifeguard training is essential for swimmer support even if you are in a kayak. Lifeguard trainers have a wealth of practical experience in saving swimmers and that is what is needed if you are providing swim support. Again, these swimmers are NOT capsized paddlers.

My greatest concern regarding this topic is the unsuspecting boater who volunteers and the race organizers who are either unaware themselves or just to cheap to provide adequate safety personnel or training to safety boaters. Also, the organizers not even finding out if the safety boaters can handle a panicked swimmer rescue. In many cases there are not even safety requirement for the type of kayak being used or how it is outfitted.

The more I watch SUP’s in action the more I think they will be better suited for swimmer supports than kayaks, especially of the SUP is wearing a wetsuit. That big platform at water level is made for a cold swimmer to slide onto when in trouble. Just make sure the SUP has lifeguard training. The better sightline from a SUP is another asset, especially if there is a pack of swimmers.


Kayak Guy July 1, 2012 at 11:34 am

We’ve always wanted to be safe every time time we step into the water and don’t want to be at a critical situation and have panic attacks. This is a great realization between kayakers and SUP’s who are more capable of being or better suited for swimmer supports but wouldn’t an intense training help?


Elizabeth August 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I’m preparing for my first event as a safety boater for a small triathlon at a nearby lake and have been hunting for information about what to expect and how to prepare myself and my kayak. I’m so glad I came across your discussion and the information herein. Until now I’ve been overwhelmed by the lack of information available.

Thank you for posing the question, Wayne, and everyone for their responses. I feel like I know what questions to ask now and how to get ready.



Nancy Soares September 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Thanks so much for commenting, Elizabeth! Good luck on your event! I’m sure you’ll do well. It’s so good to know that the blog is reaching kayakers like yourself and that this post was helpful. I know Wayne will agree.


PeterD September 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

I worked with a couple of the local swim race promoters (including Leslie, who has commented on this thread) to write up a description of what one can expect, and be expected of, for the large Alcatraz swims that go on in the SF Bay. The hope is that this will help weed out some who probably shouldn’t be there, and maybe relieve worries from some who would be just fine but have heard horror stories.

The next of these big races isn’t until next summer, so it won’t get widely viewed until then. So if you have any comments or suggestions, I’d love to head them.


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