The sea is calm and warm. No jelly fish floating around, the pair of swimrunners is competent and confident, the route stays close to the shore, no wild off-shore crossing, no strong current, the two friends jump into the water with serenity. However, they haven’t done everything they could to stay safe : they are not carrying a safety buoy. You may ask why would they need to bother with this additional piece of equipment ?
To see and to be seen
We are not on our own in the water, and unfortunately it is often difficult to see a swimmer moving in the water. That is notwithstanding the boat enthusiasts and jet ski fanatics who don’t pay attention to the other seafarers. A buoy captures the attention, it signals the presence of an obstacle in the water. For the competent swimmer, being hit by a boat is the main danger in open water. An impact on the head can easily lead to loss on consciousness, and potentially drowning. Cuts caused by propellers and hulls can be fatal, or at least very severe. The danger is real, therefore we should try to prevent it. Of course the swimrunner should choose carefully the route. They should know the navigation channels, in particular in proximity of ports and beaches. We should also regularly check around us to visually assess the potential dangers and monitor the trajectories of the boats around us. But overall we have to make ourselves visible, and a buoy is by far the best way to be noticed. A bright swimming hat, red, fluorescent green of orange, helps. Note that in some races the swimrunners have to carry a buoy during the longest and most exposed swimming sections, proof if needed that even with a safety setup in place it is difficult to spot and track a swimmer in the water.
Floating to rest and recover
When a problem occurs, even small, a safe session can rapidly turn into an emergency. A cramp, a problem with equipment, swallowing water from a cheeky wave, and we have an alert to deal with. Obviously, with a neoprene wetsuit, often a pull buoy, swim calf and floating shoes, sinking is not a risk. However the head is not maintained out of the water et risks of swallowing water exist. A buoy provide a mean to hang on to something floating and to deal with the problem in a safer and more comfortable manner. Paradoxically, warm water tends to increase the risks as we would potentially swim without a neoprene wetsuit and consequently the swimmers buoyancy is reduced. Therefore, even in fine warm weather a buoy is useful.
A versatile buoy
Depending on distance and duration of training we have to carry a first aid kit, food and drink. We also often take our car keys, mobile phone, etc. Some buoys feature a very handy « waterproof » compartment to carry and keep dry our beloved electronic gadgets.
What length to pull the buoy ?
All the buoy manufacturers provide a belt and a relatively short leash. Normally one can adjust the length so that when swimming the buoy sits between the bum and the knees. You don’t feel them at this position, and the visual display is ideal for incoming boats. Another solution is to use a longer leash to get the buoy just behind the feet; however it may come to touch your feet with the movements of the waves. Then one can decide to extend the leash to put the buoy further back, for example one meter behind the feet. But this means the buoy is now much behind the swimmer and a boat or jet ski may want to pass too close to the buoy, potentially hurting the swimmer. This can also prove to be a hindrance when getting out of the water. Another decision to make is who is going to take the buoy in case of a pair of swimrunners training together. I would tend to say that each should have a buoy. But, if only one buoy is used, then visually it’s better to have it between the two swimmers, therefore pulled by the front swimmer, with a short leash otherwise the back swimmer would be annoyed. If the back swimmers pull the buoy, then the front swimmer is quite a long way away from the buoy and loses some of its safety advantage. Note that if you don’t use a tether between the two swimmers, then if the front swimmer pull the buoy it may prevent them to see the back swimmer. That would be the only real disadvantage of the buoy.
Carrying the buoy on land
If one decides to have a buoy in swimming , how to carry it in running?
Several options are available. Few buoys have two shoulder straps to carry them like rucksacks. All buoys have leashes to pull them, and we can pass them over the should to carry the buoys in the back. For very short distances the easiest is to hold them. Another solution is to deflate it and stuck it either in the belt or in the elastic of a pull buoy. For long distance swimrun training sessions with little access to food and drink, another solution is to bring a classic trail rucksack in which you fit the buoy, and reverse the process for swimming. It’s slower for transitions but it makes for a more comfortable running. The few seconds lost in transition are nothing compared to the gain in security.
In conclusion, we can really compare the buoy to cycling helmets : we lose a little bit of time, but the gain in safety is worth this few seconds. In a forthcoming article we we review the type of buoys available to help you chose the right one for you.
/ Fix WoS team, swimrun coach & sport scientist