Compared to a swimming pool there are a much greater number of challenges associated with open water swimming.
Whilst the number of major incidents to date is low the likelihood rises as participation rates increase. Currently, the standards of open water safety provision vary, with many reasons why this might be the case. Perhaps most commonly there is a lack of awareness and appreciation of all potential risks leading to subsequent planning failures.
Where Do You Start?
The increasing demand for open water swimming provides many opportunities. If managed properly it can be a complementary activity to other water-based sports and generate additional income for many venues. Income streams can include:
- Facility hire
- Activity charge
- Safety support
- Car parking
- Wetsuit/equipment hire
- Secondary spend
There are many different types of water and locations which can accommodate open water swimming. However, each venue is unique and converting an initial idea or concept into a safe and viable activity requires careful and thorough planning.
Some venues may prefer to organise the activity themselves or bring in a third party to run an activity on their behalves. Others may simply prefer to hire their facility out to an external organisation. Whatever the arrangement, investing time and preparing thoroughly from the outset can save time and money further down the line by identifying potential problems or costs.
There will always be a market for venues with basic facilities particularly from experienced open water swimmers who are confident in their ability. However, attracting and retaining new swimmers to support the continued growth of open water swimming will need a more customer-focussed, inclusive approach as well as improved and/or dedicated facilities. It is not unreasonable for swimmers paying to attend an organised session to expect:
- A welcoming environment
- A safe environment
- A well-equipped session
- A well-organised session.
A few key questions to ask yourself at this stage are:
- Is my safety reasonable for the activity/course length/number of swimmers?
- Do I have enough water quality data? Am I doing the right amount of testing?
- Do my safety team have the right qualifications?
- Do I have a process for counting the swimmers in and out of the water?
- How will I make sure the swimmers are visible to the safety team when in the water?
- Do I give swimmers all the information they need to have a great swimming experience?