Too Hot For Open Water?

Mike Lewis
by Mike Lewis 4

November 28th, 2012 News, Open Water

There has been a lot of talk about safety in the open water swimming community following the untimely death of Fran Crippen at a FINA World Cup in Fujairah in October of 2010.   The water temperature at that race was reported to be 30 celsius (86 Fahrenheit) which was likely the cause of his death.  In fact, FINA’s own report cited “factors such as a combination of high physcial exertion and fatigue in conjunction with high air and water temperatures and possible dehydration, consistent with heat exhaustion, were all possible contributing causes which led to Francis Cripen’s progressive incapacitation”.   So what has been done in to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

In researching this issue the first place I looked was under the “Rules” section on the FINA web site and it appears that only a minimum temperature of 16 degrees celsius is established for competitions.   However, in looking deeper, in a more obscure area (i.e. not in the “Rules” section) FINA has published 2012/2013 version that allows for races in water temperatures up to 31 degrees celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit).   Specifically the rule reads:

“4.7 Water Temperature
(a) The water temperature shall be measured 2 hours before
the start of the race and must be a minimum of 16’C and a maximum of 31 ‘C. i The water
temperature shall be certified by the FINA Safety Delegate and the HMF/OC Safety Officer as
measured in the middle of the course, at a depth of 40 centimeters.
(b) The water temperature shall be monitored as provided above at
one-hour intervals during the race. If the water temperature drops below 16’C or exceeds 31’C
at anyone of the measuring intervals, the water temperature shall be measured again in 30
minutes and if that measurement is also below 16’C or exceeds 31’C, the race must be

It defies logic as to why a race would be allowed to go in water temperatures that are clearly too hot.   I spent time talking with 2012 Olympian Alex Meyer and former FINA Open Water Swimming Technical Committee member Steven Munatones (who has written extensively on this issue) to help better understand, and hopefully help change this rule.   There have been a lot of safety improvements in the sport of open water swimming and more people are enjoying this aspect of our sport.

When the maximum temperature of the pool is 28 degrees celsius, according to FINA rules, why is open water swimming races allowed to be in water so much warmer?   This isn’t a hard issue to solve.   Let’s fix it, move on and celebrate good, safe competition.   Sure, there may be some places in the world that cannot host an event if the water temperatures are capped – but it only makes sense to put safety first.



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4 Comments on "Too Hot For Open Water?"

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I live on the northern US Gulf Coast. My outdoor pool doesn’t have a cooling system, so July through mid-September, we commonly get water temperatures in the high 80s, even if you’re there just after sunrise. I’d call it sucky but tolerable for training purposes with the understanding that you do have to dial the pace down when the water’s that hot and it really helps to take a cooling break every 1000 or so. I’ve also done my fair share of sprint triathlons (500M swim or less) in those kinds of Gulf water temperatures and it’s seemed uncomfortable but not too awful, and as safe as swimming in the Gulf ever is. But there’s a difference between careful training… Read more »

Asking FINA to do anything but defy logic, is asking way too much of them.

Do they also address the air temperature and humidity &/or the factors in radiant heat from the sun in combination with the water temperature somewhere in the rule? Those are huge factors in the athlete’s body’s ability to cool itself properly.


About Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis is a freelance commercial, sport and lifestyle photographer based in San Diego.  Mike began making photos in the early 80’s and immersed himself in all aspects of the photographic arts.  Mike’s professional career in in photography began after 12 years working within the United States Olympic movement; he …

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