Having taken the Swim Safety Device out a few times now it’s become apparent that it intrigues even the most equipment eschewing open water swimmers. No matter how hardcore your stance is on adhering to channel rules you still worry about being visible in the water and having your stuff stolen off the beach while on training swims. For me the Swim Safety Device is going to be the most valuable when I’m swimming in urban settings like San Francisco’s Aquatic Park or Chicago’s Ohio Street Beach where I feel really uncomfortable leaving my personal effects on the beach. It would also be useful for a point to point swim where I want to tow my stuff with me, but it’s not something I want to use everyday I’m in the ocean. For a new ocean swimmer this could be useful as basically a set of training wheels to build your confidence as you get comfortable in the water.

For those of you that haven’t seen one of these Swim Safety Devices they’re basically an inflatable dry bag that you can tether to yourself. It does double duty as a safety device and a dry place to keep your stuff as opposed to unsecured on the beach. It increases your visibility in the water and gives you a flotation device to hang on to if you need one. I weigh upwards of 225 and could successfully support my entire weight with the buoy without causing any leaks.

So using the SSD is pretty easy… you put stuff in it, roll it up, clip it shut, inflate the air bladder and then attach it to yourself. They don’t ship it with any instructions so your best bet to figure out how to do it the right way is watch the video they put out to promote it.

I’ve tested the SSD in a few different situations with mixed results. In all cases I loaded it up with a fair amount of junk, including shoes, to see how it performed actually loaded.

My first test was in Avila Beach and well, that didn’t go so well… I broke it on the way out! The week after the tsunami from Japan we had much bigger surf than usual. I tried to swim out through the waves and they broke the buoy right off of it’s tether! It body surfed back to the beach without me. Luckily someone down there caught it for me and just the clip broke, nothing else. Later I fashioned a high tech fix to the broken clip, string… So far that’s worked pretty well :)

While the surf continued to be up I was determined to find a way to test it in a more controlled setting so I took it to the pool. I looked like a huge dork, but it was a great way to get a feel for it in ideal circumstances. My major concern with the SSD would be that it would impede my swimming by getting tangled in my feet/legs or just hit me all the time driving me nuts. Luckily it didn’t do either. The tether is short enough that the buoy rides in the wake off your butt and it floats enough that you very seldom make contact with it. Not to say I didn’t make any, but it was limited. I tried breaststroking as well and this was also no problem.

Now that I knew it worked in a highly controlled environment I really wanted to see how it would do again in actual open water. Last week I went to San Francisco  and brought it along for a swim in Aquatic Park. Aquatic Park has no surf to speak of but it does get wind and chop and currents. I swam with a group of friends and they all made a little fun of me but then also got a little interested… funny how that works right :) On this swim we swam in a square and I experienced water moving in pretty much every possible direction in relation to me and the buoy which gave me a really good feel for how the SSD would react in a good deal of situations. In wind and chop the buoy will tug at you and get blown around behind you. If the wind/water is moving across you it’s going the drift out from behind you and move to the side. It still didn’t hit my legs much, but I did hit it with my hands occasionally. At the end of this swim I was mildly irritated with the SSD. But it totally served its purpose… it kept my stuff dry at an urban beach where leaving your stuff on the sand is hugely ill advised.

I still haven’t been able to test it in really gnarly swells and chop, but I’m not sure I would want it there. Having broken it once I’d be worried my stuff would end up sailing away in really rough seas.

So to wrap things up, let’s break down my pros and cons real quick…


  • Floats a large man (me) with no problem
  • Doesn’t leak (so far)
  • Makes swimmers way more visible to lifeguards and watercraft
  • Great way to keep your stuff safe while swimming


  • Not good at getting through surf
  • Cheap connective hardware
  • Sort of irritating in choppy/windy conditions
  • Chafing potential with the waist belt
  • Mine doesn’t want to fully deflate which is kinda irritating

Overall at about $30 I think it’s a good deal for open water swimmers. You might not want to use it every time you go out, but there’s definitely days or certain beaches where you’re going to want to use it. You can order an SSD through the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

31 Responses to “Review: Swim Safety Device (SSD)”

  1. Lorraine says:

    Wow – your review is so timely and comprehensive! The recent issue of USMS Swimmer had a short review of this very gadget (page 7). Your info is clearer and more explanitory – thank you! I gotta get one of these. The added visibility and the ease of carrying stuff sound sweet.

  2. Katie says:

    I have to say I love this thread. Something about the epic journey of a man and his big orange balloon on the high seas…
    I think I may need one of those. I don’t like they idea of the belt chafing, though. (Who would have thought enough people want something like this for the product to exist?)

  3. Rob D says:

    Lorraine – glad I could help!

    Katie – I love that “the epic journey of a man and his big orange balloon on the high seas” haha… sounds like a good title for my memoirs or something :)

  4. Lynn K says:

    I have yet to try mine but getting through the surf is a consern. You do cover all the points in your GREAT blog Rob! You are awesome!
    I think the fear of this thing is that it might promote unfounded safety thoughts…like water wings on a baby.
    I was talking with THE Lynne Cox about this and she has issues with the use of the device.
    This does not promote spirit of the sport.

  5. Rob D says:

    Lynn – really good point… I can see it helping someone over estimate their oceanic abilities, that worries me. I wouldn’t want to see one of these in a race or on a channel type swim. But if I’m swimming 3 miles down the beach without a support paddler or at a beach in a big city I’d totally break it out for that swim.

  6. Jim Birmingham says:

    Hey Rob, thanks for the review. Any thoughts about drag with this thing?

  7. Rob D says:

    Jim – the drag is pretty mild but there is a little bit. Even loaded with shoes and stuff like that you don’t feel much weight, but it will tug at you.

  8. Tuco says:

    Great post!

    A couple of years ago a rigged a dry bag and surfboard leash for the same purpose, but even with a float inside it, it sank a lot and created too much drag to be much fun. This looks like a much better idea.

    I used a rubber dive belt (generally used by free divers/spearfishers) to attach the lanyard — very comfortable and didn’t cause any chafing issues. Also, back on land, I could make it into a backpack for a hike/run back to my car.

    Maybe not in the spirit of racing, but great idea for other kinds of open water swims, especially as a visibility aid for boaters.

  9. Gary says:

    I did a one mile point to point last year with the intention of swimming the the return leg.
    Upon completing the first leg due to cramps decided to walk back. No footwear and my feet were not good when finished. Sure better than drowning but this device would have been great for hold footwear. I have in the past tethered a noodle to my ankle with a long piece of p-cord. Works great no chaffing and does not get in the way. I do believe it creates considerable drag. Also it is no where near as visible and no dry storage.

  10. Jack Mcallen says:

    I would to buy one but I cannot get to the swimming hall of fame without encountering a FATAL ERROR. Any suggestions

  11. Rob D says:

    Jack – unfortunately no. The Swimming Hall of Fame is the only place I know of that has them for sale right now.

  12. Brian says:

    Go directly to http://www.ishof.org and you will find it. All of the links above apppear to be broken. That should get you there. I just ordered mine. Good luck. This link also may work. http://www.ishof.org/cgi-bin/mivavm?/Merchant2/merchant.mvc+

  13. Colin says:

    This seems like a really great bit of kit – I just bought a dry bag for my kayak but would have bought one of these if I´d seen it earlier as I do a bit of open water swimming stuff and this would have doubled up to serve for both.

    I wonder how durable it is?

  14. Rob D says:

    It’s reasonably sturdy as a swim float, I’m not sure how well it would do as a straight up dry bag on a boat however. The plastic seems like it could be easily punctured if there was enough weight in it and it wasn’t supported by water.

  15. Colin says:

    Thanks Rob, you answered exactly what I wanted to know, glad I bought the dry bag afterall! After posting I went for a local reservoir swim and was telling my training partner about it – he said that his club in Switzerland had got some in for their Annual Across Lake Geneva Swim – mainly for safety from passing boats!

  16. Diana McCandless says:

    I *LOVE* the Swim Safety Device. I use it in the ocean and when I’m swimming on a lake that has jet-skiers. I feel there is VERY little drag, and what little there is, is worth it. I found it to have less drag when I reversed the location where the waist stap attaches. There have been too many OW deaths in the last year for us to not see the writing on the wall. I put an old cell phone in mine, inside a ziplock bag. This is an old phone that has no service, but I can still call “911″ with it if I get in trouble and start floating to China. I also keep webbed neoprene gloves in my SSD to give warmth and extra pull in a dire situation. I have a friend who even wore his during a *RACE* in Puget Sound.
    Recently, my Swim Bag got stolen out of the back of my truck, so now I have to replace all my items, including my SSD. ISHOF has not only raised the price now but shipping as well, $53 total. AND I’m a little irked that they won’t sell them wholesale to my local swim shop, even though they insinuate on their website that there is a volume discount for 10 or more. I think these things are so important that ISHOF’s profit margin should take a backseat to availability and affordability; they should sell these things wholesale to small privately-owned swim shops.

  17. Jim Zinger says:

    Rob I am happy that everyone is thinking swim safety. I have invented a new product called Swimmer Buddy and it fills the needs of swimmers to increase their visability and safety. It can be used in most rough water conditions and has many features. If you would like to demo one and write about it just let me know. Please take a look at it on http://WWW.swimmerbuddy.com and let me know if you would like me to send one to you.

  18. Kris Calvin says:


    Well done review. Kudos. I am part of group organizing a swim in Sitka, Alaska. Our course crosses a commonly used navigable channel and has exposure to open water–next stop Japan. For last two years the swim event required Kayak escorts. We may not have enough kayaks in town for the anticipated turnout this year and are looking at alternatives. Maybe this device might do the job. Helps that it is inflatable for easy transportation on planes. But this is also a race, and I wonder if we will get resistance from die-hard racers? Other folks commented this unit may not suitable for “channel crossings” ect. Any thoughts on that?

  19. Rob D says:

    Kris – thank you sir! I’ve seen that discussion unfold on the USMS forums a bit (I lurk more than I post) and your event sounds awesome to a cold water fan like me :)

    I think the purist crowd would be very adverse to towing a buoy in a race and although the SSD is a handy device it doesn’t take the place of a human navigated kayak. The kayak is typically there for a few reasons… navigation, feeding (not really applicable on a 5k), and monitoring the well being of the swimmer. When you’re dealing with the low temperatures you have I think the human element is the most important to consider. If a swimmer is going hypothermic they might not realize it and continue to make bad decisions, a paddler would be able to spot trouble and work on pulling the swimmer. If you can’t get a kayak for all swimmers can you find paddle boarders or perhaps have a number of small motorized craft working the course? I did the CIBBOWS Veterans Day 5K a while back which had cold air and water temps and they went with more of a zone coverage safety plan. Kayaks spread about the course with jetskis patrolling as well. My biggest recommendation is if you think you can only safely handle a certain number of swimmers that you cap the entries at that number.

  20. Kris Calvin says:

    That does help clarify the distinction between kayak support and bag support. As I mentioned in our direct email exchange, depending on the numbers we will take a hard look at “Zone defense” as an option or supplement to personalized escorts. I’m sure these concepts were in my head somewhere previously as I’ve even swum many events under those situations, but it has taken this kind of interaction to stir them up from the murky depths.

  21. Bart Cobb says:

    I swim in the harbor in the mornings during the week and the SSD makes me visible to boaters and rowers.In the several months I have used the device it has become an essential item for these non-piloted training swims. I have lost my belongings on the beach before and I like having it all with me during a swim. I also keep a cell phone and ID inside just in case……

    Wearing this in training swims as long as 10k just to see how it fares and experienced no drag or chafing. It is definitely not for a sanctioned swim.

    You’re providing great insight into products. Keep up the good work!

  22. hoferman says:


    I do open water swimming and freediving and I use buoys like shown on http://www.scubastore.com/scuba-diving/Accessories-Buoys/3/s
    The torpedo like models almost have no drag and behave well in high waves. The down part is that these buoys are not a bag by itself, but what do is attach a small dry bag to the buoy containing keys, money and a cell phone. The floating volume seems much more than the tested SSD, and will be more suitable as a safety device.
    The prices of these freediving buoys are much better than the SSD.

  23. Chamayne Ortegon says:

    I have had one of these for almost a year now. I swim open water in our local lake. No lifeguards. Sometimes my husband is with me and sometimes I go out alone, which really worried my husband, until I got this. No, you wouldn’t use it in a race (triathlon in my case.) But it is great for training and does keep my stuff dry. I have never had to utilize it, my husband did. He got a cramp swimming the 500 meter course at Lake Pflugerville (sometimes we take turns using it.) I have not had any problems with chafing, but yes, sometimes I hit it with my hands, more so when the wind is up. I can see the argument that it might make someone over confident, but then I have seen people swim across the lake and back with nothing but a noodle.

  24. SQ says:

    Great review! I bought one of these about a year ago for a couple of reasons: not wanting to leave my car keys in my bag on the beach and for visibility. A sailboat on the lake gave me a wide berth when I was swimming with it but almost hit my friend several yards away (who thinks my swim device looks dorky). Yes, I sometimes notice it brush against my legs on a windy day, but otherwise I forget it’s there. Our swim coach likes it during an open water practice as she could easily spot me in the lake while she paddled ahead to work with the faster swimmers. Drawback: the little rubber connector that kept the cap on the valve stem recently broke – now I have to consciously screw the cap on the valve (versus leaving it hanging). Tip on deflation: make sure the little fake pearl is at the opening of the valve stem at all times. (Will we see you at the Santa Cruz Roughwater swim this year? I found your blog after the event last year and recognized you in the photos.)

  25. Rob D says:

    SQ – thanks! I’m planning on being at the Rough Water this year, hopefully I see you up there!

  26. [...] behind when she was struck by a boat.  She might have had better options for clothing (perhaps a Swim Safety Device would have made her more visible), etc., but once she was run over, the three men (almost want to [...]

  27. [...] behind when she was struck by a boat.  She might have had better options for clothing (perhaps a Swim Safety Device would have made her more visible), etc., but once she was run over, the three men (almost want to [...]

  28. Anna says:

    I love Swim Safety Device. I was searching for sth. similar for a long time! I’d like to buy it. But here http://www.scubastore.com/scuba-diving/Accessories-Buoys/3/s I can not find this article. Where I can find it?

  29. kathy says:

    i live in Mexico and after my husband pulled a dead tourist out of the water he no longer felt comfortable with me doing OWS alone. For now I have a son accompany me on a kayak but this just might get my freedom back (and piece of mind should I ever have an asthma attack out there). THanks so much for your review!

  30. jack says:

    hi all:
    this is timely and interesting to me because i am trying to swim across all of Oregon’s 202 lakes and safety and stuff security is always a concern. just fyi, i have been towing a light weight kayak behind me for years. i have a stretchy belt tied to a light rope to the boat and i don’t feel any drag or get tangled..it just bobs along behind me. the advantage of this is that i can paddle one way and swim back, which makes the lake crossings more doable since some are 2-4 miles across. the kayak is also way more visible to boaters than i am and i can carry water and sunglasses etc for the return paddle. if you try it i think you will be surprised how you forget the boat is there..of course i am not swimming in surf or big swell on these lakes..

  31. [...] Review: Swim Safety Device (SSD) | Rob Aquatics Masters …Mar 26, 2011 … Having taken the Swim Safety Device out a few times now it’s … Katie – I love that “the epic journey of a man and his big orange balloon on the … [...]