DNOWS Header

Image Map

Monday, September 5, 2011

When Open Water Swimmers And Boaters Intersect

One of the world's absolutely best open water swims, the Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, the organizers provide numerous safety procedures and policies that are world class based on their decades of successful, safe swimming.

One of their safety issues relates to the protection of swimmers in the water. The Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean provides customized prop guards so swimmers cannot be cut by boat propellers.

These are especially important because the professional marathon swimmers who compete in the Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean and other professional races not only swim closely to one another, but the athletes' coaches also direct their boat drivers to get close to their athletes which means that boat propellers and swimmers can be dangerously close proximity.

In the heat of competition, a few coaches think only of their swimmer without regard to other swimmers in the race. Additionally, over a long marathon swim, anyone can get a bit inattentive and accidents can happen.

In order to prevent any potential problems and unintended accidents, the far forward looking organizers of the Traversée wisely installed prop guards many years ago.

Similarly, Tom Hecker, a renowned channel swimmer, has proposed use of the Prop Guard because of his own close calls with propellers during his swims.

"It happened after I completed my Straits of Gibraltar swim. I was approaching the Zodiac where my driver, lifeguard and wife were. The driver was positioning the Zodiac next to the pilot boat while preparing to transfer the lifeguard, my wife and supplies to the pilot boat and while I was swimming in from the shore. I approached the driver from behind on his right side. The driver was concentrating on the transfer. The two boats separated when a wave hit, so he gunned the motor to get the boats closer. His attention was on the transfer and the position of the boats. At that instant the swimmer was forgotten. I saw the prop spin in front of my hand as I was taking another stroke. My wife screamed and the motor and prop were stopped. That instant could have been disastrous."

These situations happen more often than most people realize, both in solo channel swims and relays and in races around the world. Tom asks, "Perhaps a Prop Guard at US$250 should be mandatory on all swimmer support vessels?"

We recommend the following when boaters and swimmers intersect on the open water:

When a boater is caught in a pack with swimmers all around (left, right, front, rear), do not panic. Take the boat out of gear, turn the motor off, wait until the swimmers are safely clear, and then resume operations. Because the prop may still turn with the boat our of gear and the motor off, consider putting the boat back in gear (with the motor off) to stop the prop.

There have been plenty of times when a boat loses steering control and has turned into a group of swimmers. Because of these situations, emergency actions should be reviewed in the Captains meeting. While constant vigilance is always the primary goal, there are moments and situations occur that are inevitable, such as when the sun's glare reduces a pilot's view, waves causes problems or there are mechanical difficulties.

When swimmers and boats are in close proximity to each other, getting the prop stopped and making the vessel safe should be the primary concern. While swimmers may swim into the vessel which can hurt, having them get hit by a spinning prop is disastrous.

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Association


  1. Thoughts and Prayers
    San Mateo Swimmer severely injured
    Maui Channel Swim

    John Coughlin of the San Mateo Athletic Club was severely injured when he was sucked in the propeller wash of a nearby boat. The 41 year old swimmer from Half Moon Bay was about the finish the 9.6 mile Maui Channel Swim.

    John was immediately taken to near by Maui Memorial Medical Center when he underwent an 8 hour operation. It has been reported that John has lost part of one of arm and three fingers on the hand of the other arm.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with John and his family. As information becomes available, it will be posted on the web site.

  2. Many new pilot boats for harbor pilots are jet drive to eliminate the possibility of prop injuries in a man in the water situation. Prop guards are a cheaper solution, and will help a lot to minimize the chance of accidents.


Thank you very much for your interest in the world of open water swimming.

The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

A Thank You Gift from WOWSA

WOWSA is celebrating the
1-Year Anniversary of the monthly Open Water Swimming Magazine
by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

Open Water Swimming Magazine Anniversary Issue
File Size: 13MB


Download the file to your computer, and then right-click to extract the magazine which is inside the zip folder. The magazine is in PDF format.

CLICK HERE to download your free copy now.

Open Water Swimming Magazine

Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

WOWSA Member Benefits include 12 issues of the Open Water Swimming Magazine, the annual 276-page Open Water Swimming Almanac, a free listing in Sponsor My Swim, outstanding product discounts from FINIS, an entry in Openwaterpedia and more...

The Other Shore

The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.

2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac

An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:

The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.


Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program