In Wake of Crippen Tragedy, New South Wales' Open Water Technical Committee Develops Water Temperature Policy

The Open Water Technical Committee for the Australian state of New South Wales has developed a new Water Temperature Policy that will govern all of it’s open water races. This policy is the latest, and thus far the most aggressive, action taken in the wake of the death of American open water swimmer Fran Crippen. It is widely held, though not officially confirmed, that water temperature played a significant role in his death. Swimming NSW also hopes that this policy can serve as a blueprint for larger organizations like FINA, who have been dragging their feet in coming to their own conclusions.

FINA has long applied a required minimum temperature for open water swimming, which previously stood at 16ºC (60.8°F) and 18ºC (64.4°F), but until the tragedy in October, had never before established a maximum temperature.

The policy is as follows:

1. Purpose
The purpose of the OWS Staging of EventsWater Temperature Policy is to discharge the duty of care
that Swimming NSW has to its members and invited guests who participate in events staged and or
approved by Swimming NSW, its Areas and Member Clubs and to any other sporting organisation or
promoter that seeks the sanction of its OWS event from Swimming NSW or requests permission from
Swimming NSW for the results of swimmers participating in an un‐sanctioned event to be used for
qualifying purposes.

2. Audience
This Policy applies to all OWS events under the control of Swimming NSW and/or its Areas and
member Clubs for the purpose of open water swim meets and/or events (event) that are authorised,
hosted, run by, or for and on behalf of, Swimming NSW and/or its Areas and or its Member Clubs or
such other entities that have applied for and received approval to run an open water swim meet by
Swimming NSW and/or its Areas (event organisers).

3. Water Temperature Ranges
3.1   The minimum water temperature for the conduct of an open water swimming event
irrespective of distance is 16º Celsius (60.8º F)
3.2   The maximum water temperature for the conduct of an open water swimming event
irrespective of distance is 32º Celsius (89.6º F)
3.3   The water temperature shall be taken in the manner specified within the OWS Rules prior
to the start of the event.
3.4   Where the water temperature exceeds 29º Celsius (84.2º F) and the ambient air temperature is 5º
Celsius (9º F) or more higher than the water temperature, the event, no matter the distance,
will be postponed until the ambient air temperature has decreased by a minimum of 2º
Celsius; and
3.5    In events of 10km and over, for each degree that the water temperature exceeds 29º
Celsius and the ambient air temperature is 3º Celsius higher than the water temperature
the event distance will be reduced by 2.5km. If the event distance is reduced by 50% or
more then the event will be postponed and re‐swum at a time and place determined by
the event organiser.
For 5km events the event will be postponed until Condition 3.4 has been achieved.
3.6   Where the water temperature exceeds 29º Celsius:
● feeding stations are permitted even where the rules preclude them
● throughout the event the water temperature shall be carefully monitored by
the Safety Officer in company with another independent person (who will
witness the taking of the temperature and the recording of temperature
readings) with such information being immediately relayed to the Chief
Referee.
● Should the water temperature increase then the policy conditions referred to
in conditions 3.2 and 3.4 shall be applied immediately by the Chief Referee.
3.7   Where the water temperature was less than 17º Celsius prior to the start of the event:
● throughout the event the water temperature shall be carefully monitored by
the Safety Officer in company with another independent person (who will
witness the taking of the temperature and the recording of temperature
readings) with such information being immediately relayed to the Chief
Referee.
● Should the water temperature decrease then the policy conditions referred to
in condition 3.1 shall be applied immediately by the Chief Referee and the
event stopped.

In a layman’s interpretation of the rules, a maximum water temperature is set at 89 degrees. When the water is above 84 degrees, and the air is more than 9 degrees hotter, the race is postponed until the air temperature decreases by at least 2 degrees. These rules apply to all races of all distances. Additionally, whenever the water temperature exceeds 84 degrees (29 C), feeding stations will be permitted superseding any other rules that would not permit them.

There were also certain rules that were specific to different distances. In 10k or longer races, the race distance will be reduced by 2.5k for every degree (celcius) above 29º C the water is, assuming the air is at least 3º C warmer than the water. This is up to a maximum of cutting the race in half, at which point it will be rescheduled.

A key to these rules is that they take into account both the water and ambient air temperatures, as both are equally critical in determining the safety of the swimmers.

The committee came to the conclusions after consulting several scientific publications, including the FINA Open Water Swimming Rules, the Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water dreated by the Australian Government, the National Health and Medical Research Council documents of February 2008 (Section 4), and the Physiology of thermoregulation during swimming by Neilsen, B. (1977) in Swimming Medicine IV – Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Swimming Medicine by B. Eriksson & B. Furberg, University Park Press.

This is an excellent and positive step towards making an already dangerous sport, due to its physical nature, that much safer. Given that it appears, based on the sources used, that there has already been extensive scientific work done on the subject, it’s hopeful that FINA won’t have to reinvent the wheel when developing it’s own safety regulations.

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don

Score 1 for the good guys.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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