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.
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.