As the northern hemisphere summer heats up and open water swims start to dot the weekend calendars, the number of swimmers who take to the oceans, lakes and bays in neoprene wetsuits increases.

The sleek look of black skimming along the surface along shorelines and coastal waterways is a sure sign of the popularity of open water swimming and triathlons.

While many insist on merely sticking with their natural bioprene, another demographic prefers to utilize neoprene.

In the triathlon world, the rules governing wetsuits are largely the same with only slight differences.

USA Triathlon has the following rules related to wetsuits:

* competitors may wear wetsuits if the water temperature is 78°F (25.5°C) or lower
* if the water temperature is between 78.1°F (25.6°C) – 83.9°F (25.8°C) degrees, competitors may wear wetsuits but will not be eligible for awards
* if the water temperature is 84°F (28.88°C) or above, participants may not wear wetsuits

All Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events sanctioned by the World Triathlon Corporation abide by the following rules:

* Wetsuits cannot measure more than 5 millimeters thick. A standard variance will be allowed to account for seams and jersey material (non-buoyant).
* Wetsuits are permitted if the water temperature is up to (and including) 76.1°F (24.5°C) or colder.
* Wetsuits will be prohibited in water temperatures greater than 83.8°F (28.8°C).
* Athletes who choose to wear a wetsuit in water temperatures between 76.1°F – 83.8°F (24.5°C – 28.8°C) will not be eligible for awards, including World Championship slots.
* Full wetsuits are permitted (arms and legs covered)

In the open water swimming world, wetsuits are not allowed in FINA or national championship races, and many of the traditional channel swimming venues. But there are many races that do allow wetsuits. Each race has their own policies and restrictions. But what happens when the water is very warm and swimmers still want to wear wetsuits in the absence of specific rules that do not well-define use of wetsuits?

For race directors in these situations, rules are a lower priority than simply using common sense, asking pre-race question and taking appropriate precautions.

If an athlete insists on wearing a wetsuit in very warm conditions (both air and water temperatures), a race director can privately and quietly ask the athlete the following questions:

Why do you wear a wetsuit?
Do you sink without a wetsuit?
Do you have a regular swimsuit you can use?

Can you wear some kind of light rash guard instead of a 2mm neoprene wetsuit?
Do you want to use fins instead of a wetsuit if you are nervous about ‘making it’ or sinking?
Are they training for a specific triathlon where wetsuits are legal?

If these questions are asked and the athlete continues to insist on wearing a wetsuit, it is best to ask one of the safety personal or Swim Angels to closely watch that athlete during the swim. You have done your best to prevent this person from harming themselves due to hyperthermia. Use of a wetsuit will serve to elevate their already high core body temperatures.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source