Courtesy of Ocean Safe with Bruckner Chase

Ocean Safe with Bruckner Chase is an ocean and beach educational safety series produced by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and hosted by Bruckner Chase with the cooperation of the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Today.

It is a series of educational documentaries to inform and protect coastal communities.

Part 1 of the Ocean Wise / Ocean Safe Series is Building Safer, Stronger, Wiser and Faster “Dynamic Open Water” Athletes.

Swimming is an intellectual pursuit, and of all the disciplines ocean swimming rewards those who can take a vast amount of knowledge, an intimate awareness of every moment and apply both to moving across the waves. Winter pool time is spent mastering lane etiquette, stroke mechanics and interval protocols beside turbulence decreasing lane lines, but summer is the time to enter the more intimidating world of wind, waves and wildlife.

The best open water swimmers are not always the fastest, but rather those that can read, adapt and embrace challenging conditions that can change in an instant. The ocean, in particular, is not a place to put on headphones, program your watch and just head through the waves.

Dynamic Open Water – large bodies impacted by weather, waves, wildlife and currents – demand constant situational awareness to not only achieve a peak performance, but more importantly to stay safe. Long before performance becomes a goal, safety and returning to shore has to come first. Making sure every open water session begins and ends well requires planning and situational awareness combined with the knowledge and understanding of environmental factors that can impact your experience in any open water environment.

Swimmers must be informed and aware of the myriad indicators that should dictate when to go out and when to stay on shore. There is a reason the mantra of every ocean athlete is, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”

Over the coming months the Ocean Wise Series will provide resources, tools and insights that will make every training session, race or family outing to the shore safe and positive. Since more small groups, clubs and training partners are looking out at the warming water as a training venue, the series starting point is best practices on evaluating conditions and making those critical plans on shore before getting your watch wet.

First Be Informed:

• Forecasting and Current Conditions – Apps: Surfline, SwellInfo, WeatherBug, Tides, AccuWeather, Windy, SeaStatus
• Forecasting and Current Conditions – Websites:

  • NOAA NWS Rip Currents – www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov
  • NOAA NWS Experimental Beach Forecast – www.weather.gov/beach
  • NOAA National Data Buoy Center – www.ndbc.noaa.gov
  • NOAA Ocean Today Full Moon Series: “Ocean Safety” Specific hazards and actions for coastal areas around the US releasing May 28th here

All of the above provides the information to make the call on where, when or if to go. The challenging part becomes applying all that information to the planned workout at hand. Race and workout organizers should be looking at all or most of these factors long before they set up, but only the swimmer can determine their own limits.

There are beach sessions with chest high breaking waves and 15 mph winds that some athletes will love, but these are NOT the conditions for the beginner who just finished their first full winter of pool workouts for their first triathlon. Often a new athlete won’t fully know their abilities until they are in a challenging new situation.

Whether that situation is a race or just a training session in a local lake the presence of trained, professional lifeguards capable of making the right decisions and actions are critical. Certified coaches are trained to get you physically prepared for a race, but they may not have the training or capacity to act in dangerous open water situations.

Perhaps the single best advice for any open water outing is, “Be Aware.”

When Dynamic Open Water and specifically the ocean is the planned training or racing venue even the best forecasting tools predicting ideal conditions can be wrong or not prepare you for the speed at which a wind or tide change can impact what hits you in the water. Even if there is no rain or thunder or fog…at the moment you enter the water the best lifeguards, coaches and event organizers know to anticipate what the conditions may be minutes or hours later when you, a few friends or a thousand fellow athletes are swimming far off shore.

There are a number of dangerous situations that most experienced ocean athletes know can come up. In this transition season from winter to summer cold water and dramatically different air temperatures mean dense fog can be one of those. A fog layer can come up within minutes and swimmers just 100 meters from shore may no longer be able to see land. Any condition that affects visibility not only impacts a swimmer’s ability to see a buoy, but also a lifeguard’s ability to see the swimmers. Forecasting and information always come down to having the confidence and wisdom to stand by the mantra, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”

Here’s a best practices timeline for making a call before any open water workout?

• Make a preliminary assessment the night before that should represent an 80% degree of confidence.
• Make a second assessment the morning of or roughly 2.5 to 1.5 hours before hitting the water with a 90% degree of confidence.

• Make a final decision at the shore with a 98% degree of confidence leaving that final 2% to the unexpected that may cut a swim short.
• Be prepared for the 2% by adding in some protective factors:

  • Always swim near a lifeguard
  • Swim with recognized, professional open water lifeguards, coaches, organizers and race directors with safety protocols, training and equipment on-hand appropriate for the venue and environment
  • Let people know where you are and when you are going in
  • Always have an emergency exit and safe zone plan to get out of the water
  • Tow or carry floatation or rescue tubes for visibility and support
  • Dress appropriately for before, during and after water time

Open water swimming is like mountain climbing in that no outing is a success unless you make it safely back to home. The Ocean Positive Foundation and NOAA National Weather Service want to help connect people to their coastal areas and reach their endurance potential not just once, but again and again. The key to insuring you can have a long life of positive experiences on the water is to always Be Informed, Be Aware and Be Calm before you act in, on and near the water.

Chase says, “As a NOAA NWS Collaborative Partner on Beach and Coastal Safety, Science and Conservation I hope this series moves you forward as an Ocean Safe and Ocean Positive athlete and hero to others. Additional articles will be released in the coming months in print, on websites and through social media feeds from partners like Daily News of Open Water Swimming, XX2i Optics, GU Energy Labs, Bruckner Chase-Blue Journey and many more to help make you the wisest, safest and strongest athlete on the water.

Want to learn more or take part in creating a safer, Weather Ready Nation? Check out NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation program here.”

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