USMS requirements for insurance

The following requirements must be in place to hold a Masters open water swim practice and to have that practice covered under the USMS insurance like regular pool practices:

  • The “coach/leader/organizer” of the practice must be a current USMS member.
  • All participants in the practice must be current USMS members.
  • The coach/leader/organizer of the practice does NOT need to be a USMS certified coach.
  • The coach/leader/organizer MUST have line of sight of each participant when they’re in the water. This can be done from standing on the shoreline, from a kayak or paddleboard, or from a motorized boat or jet ski. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re using a motorized boat with a standard type propeller, you MUST have a second person on the boat as a “swimmer spotter.”

Things to consider when planning a practice

  • Weather conditions: Research the weather conditions leading up to the practice and inform all participants of the type of weather expected on practice day. Be prepared to cancel the practice if weather conditions are too severe.

  • Local environment and water conditions: Know and understand the water conditions for the body of water being used. Understand the currents if there are any, tides, how the wind affects the area, how deep/shallow it is, what the public boat traffic is like in the area during practice time, and if there are any underwater obstacles or dangers, marine wildlife, surface dangers such as trees down, waves, chop, visibility, etc

  • Water temperature: Both air and water temperatures can affect the practice significantly. Have a water thermometer to check water temps if there isn’t a reliable source to obtain accurate water temps for that area. Watch and know the water temp and communicate this to the group. If water temps are colder, wetsuits might be needed at least for some swimmers. If the water is warm, 85F-87F, a very short (3K or less) and easy swim should be conducted with nothing too strenuous. If above 87F, no practice should be conducted.

    If water temps and/or air temps are on the cold side, make sure everyone is prepared with warm, dry clothes, hot drinks, blankets, jackets, etc. and make sure there is a warm place to go such as inside a building or car.

  • Fear: Being fearful of swimming in the open water is a real thing for many swimmers. If they’ve only swam in a pool, going to the open water where they can’t see the bottom, where there is potential marine life, where conditions can be rough, etc. can all lead to fear. The coach/leader/organizer needs to communicate with each swimmer and understand those that may be fearful but want to swim in the practice. If a coach/leader/organizer has a person like this, pair them up with someone who has experience in open water and can help to keep them on track and more relaxed. Keep the swim groups together. Don’t let swimmers swim off the front of the pack and leave everyone else behind. Know your swimmers and be ready to organize the group(s) for safety, comfort, and fun.

Equipment for Swimmers

List of equipment swimmers will need or may want to use in an open water practice:

  • Suit
  • Cap
  • Thermal cap
  • Goggles
  • Anti-chaffing lubricant
  • Wetsuit
  • Nose clip
  • Earplugs
  • Watch
  • Sunscreen

Navigation Techniques and Drills to Practice

Navigation techniques and drills that can be incorporated as part of the open water practice:

  • Sighting: Sighting is an important part of being able to effectively swim in the open water. Being able to see where you’re going and then stay on track to get there is something that can be worked on every practice.

  • Bilateral breathing: Practice bilateral breathing, which can be helpful in sighting right and left, help to keep a swimmer swimming straight, and reduce neck strain on longer swims.

  • Reading water and weather conditions while swimming: This comes with practice, researching your area, and learning how different weather conditions can affect the body of water used for the open water practice. Come to understand tides, currents, winds, weather patterns, waves, etc. and how they affect the body of water. Understanding water conditions and how the weather can affect things is important for conducting a safe and fun open water practice.

  • Drills to practice: Swimming Straight Drill, Head Up Drill, Buoy Drill, Pickup Drill, Indian Sprints Drill, and Acclimation Drill. For details on to conduct these drills, see the USMS Open Water Swimmer Clinic Manual Section 6.