Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Turn buoys are some of the most key elements of the open water swimming world. Inflatable, portable floating guide posts of the waterworld. They immediately indicate a point, a turn, a hazard, a shore, a current, a pier, a jetty, rocks or the finish on a loop course, out-and-back course or geometrically shaped courses.

In a point-to-point course or a solo channel swim or relay, it is possible to take navigational clues from the opposite or parallel shores or your escort (a watercraft, paddler or kayaker), but the vast large majority of open water swims use turn buoys.

Of all shapes, sizes, colors and anchoring systems.

Big ones that are impossible to miss and little ones that leave you thinking, “What in the world was the race director thinking?”

The standard buoy types include the Triangular Pyramid buoy, the Cylindrical buoy (used either vertically or horizontally), the Sausage or Banana buoy, the Spherical buoy, the Salmon Egg buoy or custom-ordered buoys of a specific dimension and shape. Each buoy requires a different anchor system based not only on the depth of the water and shape of the buoy, but also if the course is in a still, moving or turbulent body of water and if the winds are still or significant.

While most buoys are simple with either the manufacturer’s branding on it or one simple color, more and more open water swims are using buoys with the sponsor’s name or event name clearly printed on the buoys.

When experienced race directors are designing their course, they think about the size, shape and color of the turn buoys and intermediate guide buoys and determine what is best for the swimmer’s ease-of-visibility and safety. At the same time, they balance the traditions of the sport where navigational IQ is rewarded with the increasing need for safety as the number of swimmers in each race increases. Not only are budgets affected by the number and size of the buoys, but also how many staff and volunteers can help set, anchor and remove the buoys on race day.

These World Open Water Swimming Association recommends that race directors implement a number of changes if it helps the swimmers identify the position where they are on the course.

That is, unlike running or triathlon courses where kilometer or mile markers are arranged on the course, swimmers often have no idea how far they have swum on the course. Is it halfway? Are we close to the finish? How much further? are all thoughts that run through the heads of open water swimmers in a race.

Race directors can number their buoys (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, etc.) or place a buoy of a specific size and shape at the halfway point or with a certain distance remaining to help.

Color, size and shape standardization of turn buoys and intermediate guide buoys would also be helpful and in line with other sports. That is, large orange cylindrical buoys can be positioned at the turns and yellow spherical smaller buoys can be positioned along the course as guide buoys while different sized red salmon egg buoys can identify hazards on the course or the entrance to finish chute.

Just trying to keep the open water swimmers in line.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association