Reactions to the Marathon Swimming Rules Survey

by Evan Morrison. 03 April 2013.

My report on the Marathon Swimming Rules Survey report generated considerable interest in the community. In particular, Steven Munatones published a series of articles on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, each focusing on a controversial item from the survey:

Steve made a variety of interesting points.

Regarding shark divers, he recounted stories of their effectiveness during Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida swims, as well as his own swims in Japan. He concludes:

It is our opinion that shark divers can play an important role when sharks are known to exist in the expected course of marathon swimmers. But if marathon swimmers do not want to use a shark diver, the chances of being attacked by a curious or hungry shark remain extremely low.

Regarding stinger suits, Steve writes:

We view use stinger suits are reasonable forms of protection against possible dangers that can, literally, kill a swimmer. […]

Is it an enhancement? Protective swimwear is usually porous and creates tremendous drag for the swimmer. So it certainly does not help the speed of a swimmer and directly leads to a swimmer demonstrating greater strength and stamina.

I would simply respond: While that may be true of current models of stinger suits, who is to say companies won’t develop stinger suits that do directly enhance speed? Could I wear my old full-body Blueseventy Nero tech suit (which clearly enhances speed), and call it a “stinger suit”?

Regarding bubble caps, Steve admits that a bubble cap “feels warmer overall relative to other caps,” but then cites longstanding historical usage of bubble caps in concluding that “use of a bubble cap is not a loophole in the rules; rather, they are part of marathon swimming heritage.” I agree with this statement.

Regarding jammers, Steve makes the valid point that their widespread usage in elite pool swimming is evidence that they must enhance speed, and therefore, “use of jammers run counter to the marathon swimming and channel swimming ethos to not use anything that offers an extra edge or that enhances performance.” It’s perhaps a bit surprising, then, that nearly 80% of survey respondents approved of them.

Finally, Steve analyzed the geographical distribution of marathon swimmers from a few additional angles, to provide perspective on the predominance of North Americans in my survey sample. I agree that the survey probably did over-sample North Americans to some extent, but not unreasonably so.

Thanks again to Steve for the coverage.

The survey analysis is also covered in the April/May 2013 issue of H2Open Magazine. Though I didn’t get a byline, the writing is mine.

h2open article

Then there was this on the South End Rowing Club Facebook group:


Joe Butler refers to an ongoing controversy at SERC about the use of swim aids in the club “Nutcracker” swims.

There was also a healthy discussion of the survey on the Marathon Swimmers Forum.

April Fools!

On a different rules-related topic, Donal and I caught a few unsuspecting prey in our coordinated April Fools prank about drug testing in channel swims. Fortunately, they were pretty good sports about it.

Steve actually makes some good points about the logistics of any potential PED testing regime in channel swimming.

Just to be clear: If you swim with the SBSCA this year (and I hope you will), you are free to pose for pictures and chat with your friends on the beach. We will not require you to pee in a cup.

Wetsuits and Open-Water Swimming Safety

On a third rules-related topic, the Global Drowning Prevention Forum picked up on my commentary about the tragedy at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. As you may recall, I wrote:

In my view, there’s absolutely no substitute for proper training and preparation. … A wetsuit is not going to keep you safe. Swimming competence will keep you safe.

While wetsuits may decrease the chances of an individual person drowning, I believe they actually increase collective risk – by giving people a false perception of safety and encouraging them to put themselves in situations they are not prepared for.

Some interesting discussion ensued. Of particular interest was a comment by Audrey D. (bold added):

Anyone participating in an open water swim race should have many practice swims in open water prior to a race. There are multiple conditions that can occur in open water that change the parameters of how you should adjust your swim. Sadly, even skilled swimmers can drown, given changes to the water temperature, unforeseen changes to waves, and unexpected reactions to these changes. Never rely on a wetsuit to improve your swimming abilities in a race. There is no substitute for skilled instruction and subsequent practice.

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Posted in: rules/standards/principles Tags: survey