The MySwimIt Safety Device: Good or bad for triathlon races?

This evening I got an interesting comment posted to an old post of mine from last summer.  My original post was about the NYC Triathlon swim deaths that occurred during the 2011 Nautica NYC Triathlon.  That post touched off a wide range of opinions on ways to reduce swim deaths in triathlon races (which is statistically by far the most deadly leg).

The comment that was posted was somewhat spam/marketing-eqsue (actually, not somewhat, it was blatant spam) – but it was interesting enough to lure me over to check it out.  It was touting a new product called the SwimIt, which is an CO2-driven inflatable life jacket that straps to your leg and can be deployed upon emergency – simply by pulling a red handle.  Sorta like an ejection seat, except without the fighter jet.

imageimage

First, let’s get some quick reference items out of the way before my thoughts on it.  The unit is both USA Triathlon & Ironman (WTC) approved, which means you can use them in any race sanctioned by them.  Further, it uses the same CO2 cartridges that you use to inflate your tires in a pinch (which means they can be found everywhere).  The unit is re-usable as it can be repacked with a new CO2 cartridge and used again.  Finally, it includes a snazzy whistle, and costs $120.

Here’s a base informational video they have on it:

MySwimIt Safety Device

Ok, with that baseline out of the way – I’m pretty interested in your thoughts on this.

From a openwater training standpoint, I think this is an awesome product.  Many of us swim long-distance training swims, oftentimes out of reach of others (simply due to ability gaps with our swimming partners, or other logistical challenges).  This is especially true of ultra-swimming folks, who can frequently be out there on long swims for hours at a time, often alone, and occasionally in less than ideal conditions.  This offers at least a basic life saving flotation device in case something unexpected happens (excluding getting run over by a ferry boat).  Also, let’s not forget the attached whistle as a better method for attracting help.  In some municipalities, swimmers are not permitted by law to go further from a certain distance from shore without a flotation device and/or assisting boat – so this may also address those legalities.

But, I am concerned there are some issues with it in a triathlon race scenario.  First up are some of the logistical issues.  Due to the position of the “red handle” on the back of the swimmers thigh, and knowing all too well the typical “rough” triathlon start, it seems pretty easy or even likely that there would be accidental pulls of handle.  The number of times my ass and thigh have been grabbed, swam over, or even hung onto in  a triathlon is far too significant to discount, making this handle position prime territory for another swimmer to catch their hand on it and deploy the unit right at the start of a race.

image

Of course, if it were to deploy mid-race accidentally, it wouldn’t realistically harm anyone other than the swimmer wearing it.   And in that case, it’s sorta a side effect of wearing the device.  It might inconvenience others in that it would effectively add a new swim buoy to the course, but that’s not too big of an issue in the grand scheme of things.  Logistically you’d have to drag it around the course with you (hopefully not an Ironman course) since you can’t leave trash or equipment along the race course, but again, ‘it is what it is’.  And finally, I’m wondering how easy it is for the entire package to be pulled off the swimmers leg (as it appears Velcro; it will depend on the strength/type).

That last point brings me to my primary concern with race scenarios. I wonder whether or not  the SwimIt introduces a false sense of security for the swimmer (again, specifically just for a race).  You’ve seen the NYC triathlon this year go to a system that aims to require you to ‘certify’/’validate’ that you’re prepared for the distance.  There are of course many reasons why someone might have trouble in the water during a race – not all of which have anything to do with skill level.  Some of the best swimmers in the world have died from other medical reasons during openwater races.

But does this device encourage a triathlete who might not yet be ready for an openwater triathlon to enter a race that might be over their head (no pun intended)?  And what happens if the unit fails to deploy, but was expected to provide that safety barrier?

Again, I think there’s some real promise here – and I think for training scenarios as well as non-triathlon openwater races this is a great safety device.  Similar in a number of ways to a helmet for a bike.

But, I’m rather curious what you think.  I’d love to hear your opinions – especially on races, and in particular, should there be any limitations and/or rules around its use?

As always – thanks for reading!

23 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    There is a similar product that is worn like a belt. Looks like the handle would be better protected on your stomach than on the back of your leg.
    link to triaids.com

    For open water training, have you seen the Safer Swimmer Float? It is towed behind you. Makes you more visible and can carry valuables, towels and shoes.
    link to ishof.org

    Reply
  2. Probably rehashing stuff that has go round before ... but if you are serious about a BA being a life saver you need to be able to carry it in an already on position. if it were built in to a wet suit, chest and behind head, with the activation handle on the belly it would be ideal - look at some of the biker air bag gear for ideas.

    Reply
  3. Well, I'm appalled by the whole darned thing. If that is deployed, look what will happen. It provides flotation for your butt, leaving you head down in the water. Bad idea.

    No matter where the deployment handle is, it's likely to be pulled during a start. And if it's in a place where it can't be pulled by your competitors, you won't be able to pull it yourself in an emergency.

    As for the open water certification, there is always a first time. If every races requires such a thing, how does the racer get the experience? Even if you've done numerous half iron distances, it's a big jump to the full iron distance. Even if you swim it in open water, and know you can do it, that's a far cry from doing with 3000 buddies trying to swim beside and on top of you.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Lame.
    I can see how it can work for someone doing extremely long distance swimming and doesn't have a swim buoy (swim can?) with them.

    It's not going to prevent any deaths regardless because everywhere I've read the reason why the death occurs was primarily heart issue. There has to be some sort of underlying heart disease unknown to the swimmer.

    The cold OW is also the culprit as well. I can bet you that there's many triathletes (beginners perhaps?) that don't train in OWS and think it's just like being in the pool. Obviously it's not. There's no place to rest, no place to "stand".

    Anyhoo - knowing that, it just seem to be much more of a hassle than it's worth for races. Your legs could "shrink" due to the cold water and the "thing" will not be tight anymore and with the kicking, it will just simply fly off.

    Reply
  5. Milessio

    BAD, BAD, BAD

    A wetsuit provides plenty of flotation. It also provides insulation to the body(minus head, hands & feet of course). So, MySwimIt is just another gadget, that could give false security, without providing any benefit apart from a bright yellow distress marker. Could it become a requirement for ALL racers?!!!!! (but mysteriously not the professionals).

    How many uses will forget to take it off before trying to remove their wetsuit & struggle even worse than every other novice?

    Novice triathletes should not take part in an OWS swim event, but start out with pool swim ones. If then they then want to enter an OWS event, they need to realise that they need to experience swimming in open water - pool swimming is not enough. In UK many/most prestigeous events hold preparation days for beginners, which seem a good idea (and adds some income).

    The goal for a novice OWS triathlete should be simply to finish & enjoy the event. Times & position expectations just increase the pressure & nervousness.

    It looks like the Safer Swim Float provides a better solution for training, & can be used if not wearing a wetsuit. Not for racing though.

    Reply
  6. Tommy W.

    I think this looks like a great product.

    But frankly, my biggest problem in triathlons isn't the swim, it's the bike. Those TT bikes are so wobbly. A couple of times -- especially at the start where it gets really hairy -- I've tipped completely over.

    If only there was a device I could mount on my bike that would increase its stability. Like a system where I could add one or even two additional small diameter discs to my bike to help create a more stable plane.

    That would be a real confidence booster and make triathlons a lot safer for all of us.

    Reply
  7. Wes

    I've had a SwimSafe belt since day one, although I don't use it anymore.

    I wore it in a couple of races. The rules are clear. If you deploy it, you're out of the race. I've never used mine. But really, it's no big deal. It goes under my tri top and nobody knows its there.

    I couldn't see using it with a wet suit. You have to try to drown in a wet suit.

    That's my nickels worth.

    Reply
  8. It does seem like a great idea for open water training, but I'd have the same concerns in competition that you do. Unless there's a safety on the thing, it seems too easy to get snagged and go off during a race and if there is a safety, that seems to be a problem as when you'd actually need the thing, you're probably fighting panic and not thinking clearly.

    Also, I think calling the original comment spam to be slightly unfair. I think a company commenting about their swim safety device at least partly aimed at triathletes on a blog post about deaths during the swim of a triathlon is too targeted to be called spam. Spam is more when the comment is marketing something that isn't perfectly related to the post topic. If they'd been advertising waterproof sunscreen, for example.

    Reply
  9. @Tommy W., if there was a like button, I would like your post 1,000 times. I could see using it, maybe, for a solo OWS, but that's about it, and I'm definitely a swim "freaker-outer," if that makes any sense at all. I'm fine practicing in open water, but on race day I have a lot of anxiety (I think it's wetsuit related, but enough about me. I wouldn't use it.)

    Now, NYC Tri, on the other hand... that's kind of brilliant. They don't say they're going to verify the OWS requirement in any way, putting it on the competitors to participate in some kind of honor system that says they're qualified to race. The NYC Tri swim is one of the easiest ever - great for a beginner, IMO - and there was a lot of political pressure on them to guarantee safety, as if they could control a competitor having a random heart attack in the water. So I like that they put it back on the participants while still being able to say, "We told them to be ready. If they showed up without that experience, they lied." I also like that the requirement is for 800 meters, so this can still be the first Olympic triathlon, for example. Did the requirement say it had to be in a tri, even? Around here, at least, there are a lot of open water events in the Hudson and East Rivers, which is obviously exactly what you'd be dealing with in the NYC Tri, so it's even better if you could get your practice event in with one of the swim only or aquathlons in the area.

    Sorry about the wall of text. Apparently I had a lot to say.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Great for OWS training. I have a vacation coming up where I hope to do quite a bit of OWS. I would consider getting one of these for the piece of mind.

    However, for races, I wouldn't use it. Furthermore, if I saw one of my competitors with it on...I would intentionally try and pull it. While of course this is in jest, it certainly wouldn't put it past someone to do that.

    Reply
  11. They were pushing these at the open water swim clinic I did last week. It seems like a good idea for training but, did anyone notice the potential choking hazard? If deployed in a race it seems as though the rope or cord could get wrapped around the neck of a person swimming next to you.

    Reply
  12. I have been interested in a device for open water swim training. In races, there is plenty of support and the distances are trivial.

    For training, I think it would provide some piece of mind and I have considered dragging an inflatable behind me (safeswimmer $40, old kickboard, etc) or purchasing an inflatable like Swim'it (USTA approved, $120) or swimsafe ($80).

    I agree that wetsuit provides good buoyancy and that endurance swims may be best done in the pool.

    Reply
  13. It's already been repeated by others, but this is just a horrible race idea. First off, even if you can avoid an accidental deployment (which you really can't) if you are in a wet-suit, you float! You can't help but float. If you start freaking out, you'll panic more trying to get this thing deployed and in place, rather than just rolling over on your back and calming down. Also, if you are a swim freaking out type, you'd probably start in the back, so no real danger of being clobbered by others swimming over you. When I do long OWS I pull a boogie board behind me with a orange flag that flies from it. It's a huge pain in the ass, but it makes me visible, offers something to cling to in an emergency, and also makes me work harder to pull it, so really it helps in the long run.

    Reply
  14. I think they should require these in the olympics.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    I don't think accidental deployment is an issue because if you really think about it, a person that would be wearing this isn't really competing as much as actually finishing the race, he/she would most likely be waiting in the back of the pack and probably wouldn't pass anyone.

    Reply
  16. I read your post and just bought it i leave near to the caribian sea and it sound excelent for me for open water training i would not use it in a race as i think i wil be prepared and as well you have normaly a lot of kayacs and lboat arround meaning the chance that something will happen is less..

    Reply
  17. From your description I'm not too impressed: In case you need it you have to pull the tap on the back of you leg, get it out and put it over your head. There are no straps to tighten around your waist, from the video it seems you have to hold on to it.

    That actually means you have to be in pretty good condition when you need it. If you're in such conditions, you're certainly also in condition to alert the lifeguards on the route. It is unlikely that you will be in such conditions if you suffer a cramp, swallow a wave or get other respiratory problems.

    If such a device should be useful, it should be worn, integrated into the trisuit or wetsuit. That would also solve the problem of placing the tap, that could be placed on the front, and the problem that other swimmers might accidentally pull it off.

    Reply
  18. I came across this safety device produced by the International Swimming Hall of Fame a while back. I think it looks promising for open water training but it certainly is not suitable for a race. It will also aid in visibility. I often swim in dark colored water and I know I am very difficult to see.

    link to ishof.org

    With regards to the

    Reply
  19. Security what we all need at all times. This swimming safety device is very cool! To consider that whenever we're in the water we are not safe from drowning.

    Reply
  20. SSB

    I wonder how hard it would be to travel with? I think the rules say you can carry on CO2 as long as it's attached to a life preserver, which I guess it is..but...

    I think it's overkill. But I guess if it's designed as a life preserver, vs a noodle (which isn't...it's just used as one), then it's purpose is to give someone confidence they can survive in the water.

    I'll keep the rest of my smart ass comments to myself.

    Reply
  21. You know for years, people have been saying that an accidental deployment would happen, but it never has! Not to me or anyone else. It's not a hair trigger. You really have to give it a jerk, in one direction, up the torso, or it won't deploy. I've raced with it many times and hundreds of athletes have as well, and no one has ever had an unintentional deployment. The location of the device and the unidirectional trigger help make it extremely unlikely that anyone could sneak up and pop it. I'm not saying it could never happen, just that it has never happend. Also, to alleviate that concern, this years Swim IT has a trigger safety strap that can be used if you are concerned about someone grabbing it.
    As for the price, they aren't cheap! The Swim IT is made in the USA out of the best materials possible. Like the UBl marine application velcro sharkskin legstraps, the UV resistance marine grade thread, or the double welded life jacket. It is reuseable and the peace of mind is priceless. Heck, I have a pair of shorts that cost $150. So this is a real bargain. For many, just having the peace of mind in the open water is all they need to get going. The Swim It is an item that encourages responsible racing in a sport that is growing extememly fast! Triathlon is no longer the realm of the extreme adrenaline junkie. It has moved into the mainstream, and WTC and USAT have done a great job of encouraging participation. This device is like a helmet. You don't wear it with the intent of using it, but you wear it "in case" something bad happens... and plenty can happen. In just the past 5 weeks (May 22-Jun 23) Four triathletes died on the swim. Maybe one of them would be alive if they had the safety device? Maybe all of them? I don't know, but I do know that in the swim, everything is fine until its not! And then it is a life and death struggle. So it just makes sense to wear something that is not going to slow you down, won't bother you in anyway, and could potentially save your life. A lot people agree and have been training and racing with it this year since it was USAT approved. In fact, at Ironman Texas, I was invited to speak to the athletes at Ironman Village during Check In. So it isn't a question of "is this a good idea or not?" Thanks, Rick.

    Reply
  22. I am the developer and co-inventor of the product that has been credited with establishing the term Safe Swimming Device or SSD. The International Swimming Hall of Fame's SaferSwimmer is a product I came up with based on my experience of over 50 years as a competitive swimmer, open water swimmer and ocean lifeguard. Originally, I intended it as a means to make myself more visible in the water to boaters or other fast moving craft and as a way to carry valuables such as keys, wallet, cell phone with me, rather than leaving them on the shore and having them stolen - all without interfering with my swimming in any way. Then several incidents, including the near drowning of my son, who represented the USA in water polo in three Olympic Games, nearly drowned while swimming in the open water in Australia. It was due to a first time incident of anaphylaxis. This and the drowning death of Fran Crippen, who won the open water swim at the Hall of Fame a year earlier, drove home the point that the water is a dangerous element even for the most experienced and competent swimmers. A point driven home since many more times since. Unlike running or biking, where when an athlete passes out, falls on the ground and can be helped, swimmers sink unseen. We have already had one incident reported in Minnesota where one of our floats was noticed not to be moving apparently without a swimmer. Noticing this, other swimmers stopped, found the swimmer inches beneath the surface and were able to save his life. I think all products that are emerging, like the Swim IT are a step in the right direction, but we are not there yet in making the open water SAFE during competitions. Last year, I observed first hand one of the elite open water swimmers in the world pass out at the finish line of the USA Swimming Open Water Championships that were held in Fort Lauderdale and have to be rescued. It is clear that she did not have had the presence of mind to ignite a CO2 cartridge. She just collapsed. If this had happened in the middle of the race, she might not have been so lucky. When a swimmer stops swimming because of stroke, heart attack or faints they will almost surely drown if not seen within one minute or less. I believe that seeing a SaferSwimmer not moving in the water could provide an alert to either other swimmers, as was the case in Minnesota, or race observers and lifeguards even at a distance. Without this, swimmers tend to slip beneath the surface and go unnoticed, even in wet suits, as a recent drowning during a tri-race in San Diego demonstrated. Anyway, I encourage you to look at all the products that are emerging in the market and decide for yourself if these products are for you and maybe you will come up with a product that will make swimming safer. You can find out more about our idea, at our website http://www.saferswimmer.com Try it, you might like, and you will certainly be a saferswimmer.

    Reply
  23. Anonymous

    Hello all. I am new to the blogging world of triathletes. I find this information to be very valuable to me as I have invented a product that is about to be launched. My grandson nearly drowned last summer as he swam a few feet from me. I asked him why he didn't call out and he said to me that once he knew he was in trouble his mouth was below the water line. As I watched him I thought he was just playing and doggy paddling. At any rate, I did look for several days after this for some type of alert device for swimmers to use that was non obtrusive and lightweight and not effect the enjoyment of swimming but would allow those in the area to be alerted to a distressed swimmer. I did not find anything.
    As grandmother of nine I began to experiment and finally after a year have a pat pending device that allows a swimmer in distress to be seen. I am unfamiliar with triathletes, but have been told by many people that this could be a valuable tool for them. I can only hope it is. I am appalled that there are still deaths from swimming at all skill levels because people looking on are unaware of the distress swimmers are in. On September 10th our website will be complete and we will be online. Please check out my invention, I hope it serves to save those who need it in a race such as yours. http://www.officialpullit.com Best to all!

    Reply

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>