What would you do?

Posted by Scott Zornig, 25 April 2013

May is that time of year when we prepare for the upcoming season with observing training. The CCSF and the SBCSA encourage everyone to attend this free course that is mandatory for new observers and is an excellent refresher for the veterans. Those who attend learn CPR and proper observing techniques.

I was taught how to observe long before there was observer training, but I learned from the best which is Dave Clark. If it was not for Dave, I would have never been successful in my first marathon swim 14 years ago. Dave helped me prepare for the swim. He actually scared me into doing what he felt was necessary for me to be ready and successful. During the swim, I felt safe under Dave’s watchful eye. He was all business from the time we left port until the time we returned. Dave did not sleep for the duration of the swim. At the end of my swim, I became hypothermic and broke some ribs exiting the water. Dave knew exactly what to do and tended to me. He did not leave my side until we were back in port. He then called the day after my swim to check up on me.

I not only was blessed to have Dave as my observer, but I have been able to watch Dave in action on several occasions. As a result, I modeled my observing style after him. Some may disagree, but I actually think I have become a really good observer. I may not win a popularity contest when I observe, but I have the safety of the swimmer in mind at all times. I believe the best observers are those who have the ability to 1. pay attention for several hours…even when they are tired 2. make good decisions at a moment’s notice and 3. put safety above everything else. I personally think a good observer will error on the side of calling a swim too soon rather than risk a potential disaster. My attitude is that a swimmer can always return and do the swim another day.

So do you think you are a good observer? How would you rate yourself? Would you give yourself an “A”? Ask yourself this question…If it was possible, would you want you observing for you? In other words, if you were the person swimming, would you have complete confidence in yourself as an observer? Would you pick yourself as an observer before anyone else?

Here are 10 questions which might spur some discussions at observer training. What would you do as an observer if confronted with the below situations?

  1. A swimmer has been in the water for 4 hours and is feeding regularly, but has not voided. You should…

    a. Allow the swimmer to continue
    b. Immediately stop the swim
    c. Inform the swimmer, he must void immediately or the swim will be discontinued
    d. Mandate for the swimmer to drink a quart of power aid to see what happens.
    e. Wait and see if the swimmer starts to slur his/her words

  2. A swimmer is swimming strong and has completed 80% of the swim. You estimate that the swimmer has 90 minutes of swimming left. The swimmer for an unknown reason, swims next to the kayak and puts both hands on it for 30 seconds and then starts swimming again. You should…

    a. Not worry about it as it will not affect the outcome of the swim
    b. Disqualify the swimmer
    c. Pretend you did not see it
    d. Put a footnote in the observer log and allow the swim to continue

  3. You are the primary observer for an ambitious swim of some significant distance (25+ miles…) The swimmer meets you at the boat, and has only brought along a single support person, who has admitted to being tired, due to having just flown into the area from several time zones away. There is no kayak or paddleboard escort. You should…

    a. Allow the swim to commence, even though the swim seems under supported
    b. Discuss the situation with the swimmer and the support person, and clarify to them that you will allow the swim to commence, but that if you feel that the support person is unable to deliver support to the swimmer for the duration of the swim, you will (when this becomes apparent., end the swim.
    c. Do not allow the swim to start –the swim is cancelled at the outset.

  4. You are observing the swimmer when you notice what appears to be a 7-8’ shark about 50 yards behind the swimmer. You cannot identify the type of shark due to nightfall and the distance. You should…

    a. Inform the swimmer and allow the swimmer to make the decision to keep swimming
    b. Mandate the support crew to keep a watchful eye, but don’t say anything to the swimmer for the time being as you don’t want needlessly scare them
    c. Immediately pull the swimmer out of the water for safety reasons
    d. Put the dingy in the water and have it circle the swimmer until the shark goes away
    e. Fire shots in the water to scare the shark.

  5. A swim is sanctioned by an organization which requires the swimmer to clear the water at the end of the swim. The swimmer approaches shore after 15 hours of swimming and is greeted with 10 to 12’ surf making it extremely difficult and unsafe for the swimmer to get dry feet on an all rock beach. The swimmer is only 25 yards from shore. You should…

    a. Stop the watch and credit the swimmer for a completed swim
    b. Inform the swimmer that he/she must have dry feet so they need to figure out what to do
    c. Tell the swimmer that he/she should try another beach which could mean an additional 90 minutes of swimming
    d. Call the swim and suggest that the swimmer try again at a later date
    e. Answers b and c

  6. A few weeks before the swim, the swimmer tells the boat captain that his/her intended swim will take 9 hours or less. During the swim, the swimmer encounters terrible currents and it appears the swim is going to take closer to 13 hours. At the 12 hour mark, the captain informs you that the maritime law only allows him to pilot the boat for 12 hours. The captain did not bring a second pilot because of cost and the fact the swimmer said they would be done in 9 hours. As the observer, you should…

    a. Try to talk the captain in to piloting for an extra hour because the swimmer is only a mile from shore
    b. Pull the swimmer out of the water per the Captains instructions
    c. Send the swimmer and the Kayaker to shore (because you are so close you can actually see people on the beach. while the vessel returns to port
    d. Tell the captain that the sanctioning organization will pay for the citation if he or she is ticketed/fined

  7. An extremely fast swimmer is on pace for a new course record. The swimmer is only two miles from shore and is one hour under the record. The swimmer knows that it is going to be close. You notice that the swimmer starts intentionally riding the wake of the boat which is against the sanctioning committee’s rules. You should…

    a. Disqualify the swimmer
    b. Warn the swimmer that they will be disqualified if they continue to ride the wake
    c. Pretend not to notice the swimmer riding the wake
    d. Tell the captain to move 100 yards away from the swimmer

  8. A swimmer is making progress crossing the channel although the swim is taking much longer that the swimmers normal speed dictates. The swimmer is only 1.5 miles from shore, but has complained about being cold and is slow in answering your questions. The swimmer does not appear to be swimming straight either. You should….

    a. Allow the swimmer to continue because you are so close to shore
    b. Pull the swimmer from the water because they are showing signs which could be the beginning stages of hypothermia
    c. Put the swimmer on the boat for 10 minutes and evaluate them. If the swimmer warms up quickly, then allow them to return to the water and attempt to finish
    d. None of the above

  9. A swimmer has not kept his/her food down for 2 hours. There appears to be another 3 hours of swimming until the finish. The swimmer has not complained about being cold…only a little sea sick. You should…

    a. Suggest to the support crew that they find food that is more agreeable with the swimmer
    b. Call the swim
    c. Inform the swimmer that they will need to demonstrate some food retention otherwise you may have to call the swim
    d. Carefully monitor the situation
    e. Answers a, c and d

  10. It is 2am and you notice the swimmers entire support crew is sleeping. The swimmer is in the water alone without even a paddler. You should…

    a. Wake the support crew up and tell them they need to be on deck watching and feeding the swimmer
    b. Let the support crew sleep because you know they are tired and you want fresh eyes for when you start getting drowsy
    c. Disqualify the swimmer
    d. Notify the swimmer and support crew that you are going to end the swim if the support crew is not always on deck tending to the swimmer
    e. Take over feeding the swimmer until the support crew is awake
    f. Answers a and d


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