How Dangerous is Open Water Swimming?

bobswimsbobswims Charter Member
edited April 2013 in General Discussion
People often ask this question. Lately it seems to arise in the context of the swim leg of a triathlon, or the new USMS sanctioning insurance requirements. So how does the USMS insurance carrier view it? Here are 2 things which are specifically not covered by the USMS insurance policy:

1) Competitive Water polo
2) Underwater sports activities, including Synchronized swimming

So when it comes to risk, OWS is safer than Synchronized Swimming.

http://www.usms.org/admin/lmschb/gto_ins_general.pdf

Comments

  • I tend to agree that Synchro would be riskier than Open Water. Synchronized Swimming involves rediculously long periods of breath holding, as you are underwater, throwing your legs about in the air.

    Water Polo, I'm not as sure of, but I can see why an insurance company would view it as riskier. Water Polo is very much a contact sport, some intentional, some incidental. Some of the incidental contact can be relatively violent. I've been elbowed in the side of the head sprinting for a ball, the contact happens.

    Evan had a good post on his blog, and I tend to agree, a lot of the risk in open water comes from lack of preparation on the part of the athletes. In my opinion, a smaller portion of that risk comes from lack of training/experience on the part of the support of the swim. The video from Escape from Alcatraz highlights this pretty well, in my opinion. The paddleboarders didn't have a way to really assist distressed swimmers (poor planning by race director), the swimmers weren't ready for the cold, rough water (poor prep by athletes), no one seemed to be able(?) willing(?) to help the paddleboarder indicating they had a problem (what was this person taking the video supposed to be doing, anyway?) As you mentioned in the other thread, encouraging race directors to use less trained volunteers to support the race is a poor practice, and will not do anything to make our sport safer.

    I understand things happen. While we hope to never need insurance, it is a necessary evil.

    I'm just rambling now, I'll stop.
  • I'm more curious to know if USA Swimming's insurance company tried to raise the rates as significantly after Fran Crippen's death, as USMS's insurance company tried to do last year after the Maui Channel Swim accident. If not, it goes back to my question of what the insurance company was really responding to when it raised USMS's rates. I still don't believe we're hearing the whole story.
  • AquaRobAquaRob Charter Member

    I'm more curious to know if USA Swimming's insurance company tried to raise the rates as significantly after Fran Crippen's death, as USMS's insurance company tried to do last year after the Maui Channel Swim accident.

    Would USA Swimming's insurance bear any of the brunt of that? It was a FINA sanctioned event on another continent, I would think whoever covers either FINA or swimming in Dubai would be the primary insurer in a case like that.

    Anybody know what the deal is in a situation like that?
  • Don't know. I didn't hear about anyone suing USA Swimming over it, so maybe not. The emphasis of the question really was: is USMS more likely to get sued than other organizations. If so, why?
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited April 2013
    AquaRob said:

    Would USA Swimming's insurance bear any of the brunt of that? It was a FINA sanctioned event on another continent, I would think whoever covers either FINA or swimming in Dubai would be the primary insurer in a case like that.

    Yes, it was a possibility.

    http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/lane9/news/USA/32329.asp
    THE family of the late Fran Crippen filed a summons this week... a first step in a possible future lawsuit against FINA and USA Swimming in the death of the open water swimmer.
  • timsroot said:

    The video from Escape from Alcatraz highlights this pretty well, in my opinion. The paddleboarders didn't have a way to really assist distressed swimmers (poor planning by race director), the swimmers weren't ready for the cold, rough water (poor prep by athletes), no one seemed to be able(?) willing(?) to help the paddleboarder indicating they had a problem (what was this person taking the video supposed to be doing, anyway?)

    Assuming the death of the swimmer in the Escape from Alcatraz was a heart attack there are inherent in the race difficulties in providing treatment. Statistically CPR at it's best may buy a little bit of time, the most effective treatment would be use of an AED. However to use an AED the swimmer must be transported to a stable platform (not suppose to use them on a bumpy speed boat as they may analyse wrong) There wetsuit top must be removed easier said then done on someone who is an inert heavy lump. The chest area must be dried and the area that the shock is applied must be relatively dry. Getting all this done within six minutes (beyond that, the heart may come back but brain may be gone) after fishing someone out of SF bay may difficult under the best execution of a good plan. I think full disclosure, if you have a heart attack in the middle SF bay or a similar race venue, there's a good chance your not going to make it regardless of safety plan.

  • WaterGirlWaterGirl Charter Member

    it goes back to my question of what the insurance company was really responding to when it raised USMS's rates. I still don't believe we're hearing the whole story.

    I don't think the Maui Channel incident is the culprit. On the USMS forum, there is a mysterious reference to "3 claims".

    I don't think that the USMS insurance policy even covered the boating disaster for the Maui Channel event. According to this post from @trouble, boat vs. swimmer accidents were never covered in the policy. http://www.marathonswimmers.org/forum/discussion/329/usms-ow-sanctioning/p3:
    trouble said:

    I'm truly confused by this entire conversation. Everyone is talking like USMS has changed somehow and has made a big mistake by stopping their sanctioning of events. From my perspective, it seems like USMS had been turning a blind eye to the realities of many of the events they had been sanctioning. Recent unfortunate events have forced them to adhere to the exact parameters of their existing insurance policies. Race directors of longer open water events should have always had separate insurance because USMS never truly insured their events in the first place.

    In 2010 when I was swimming commissioner at the South End Rowing Club, I got in touch with USMS to find out what insurance they actually provided and how the South End, a USMS team, was covered. The USMS office put me in touch with the insurance underwriters because they weren't able to answer many of my questions.

    It became clear to me through my conversations with the insurance agent USMS worked with at that time that USMS insurance wasn't adequate insurance for the open water swims we put on for members of our club. It was a fine supplemental insurance, it could help to keep our primary insurance rates low. But it didn't insure against most of the major things that open water swimmers in San Francisco face - boats, for example. The USMS insurance specifically stated that it didn't offer any protection to swimmers struck by boats or to boaters operating vessels for swim support.

    The information I was given was that USMS insurance basically covers injuries between USMS swimmers who are both insured. It could also serve as insurance if someone had an injury/illness that took place while swimming such as a torn rotator cuff or a heart attack. The rates were based on the idea that the insurance would be secondary insurance for most people, with people's personal health insurance being their primary insurance.

    The documentation that I saw clearly stated that accidents and injuries related to water craft of any type were not covered in any way. They also stated that for races, the race director needed to be in a position to oversee the entire course the entire time. To my knowledge nothing had changed since 2010. They also required specific buoys along the race courses - buoys we couldn't exactly plunk down in the shipping channel.

    Based on this information, the South End always purchased event-specific insurance for our public events. We used the USMS insurance as a supplemental insurance for our member-only Club Swims, Nutcracker swims, and piloted Sunriser swims with the understanding that these could not be treated as USMS sanctioned open water events and would be considered "coached workouts". Club members going out for a swim on their own in Aquatic Park were not covered in any way as there were no USMS members/coaches overseeing them as they swam.

    My personal opinion is that every race director or organization needs to asses the risks of their particular swim and to purchase adequate insurance to protect themselves and the event's participants. I'm shocked to hear that so many people were relying on USMS insurance as the sole insurance for their open water events. I'm even more shocked that USMS didn't seem to look into this further until a huge accident occurred. It is unbelievable to me that they had put their stamp of approval on events when those events didn't meet the criteria set forth by their insurers.

    Here's my best guess as to what happened: One of the two other "mystery claims" was a really big deal. That claim caused USMS's rates to go up. While reviewing the USMS relationship in light of the Mystery Claim, the insurer realized what a cluster the Maui Channel swim was and decided they didn't want anything to do with open water.

    Unless I misunderstand @trouble's post, I don't see how the USMS insurer could have had any liability for the Maui Channel incident.
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