Don't Let Her Sink.....

So in an attempt to not let my wife sink, other than the basics, rope, flotation device, etc…

I’m seeking any extra advice as I paddle next to her while she is in open water training for an Ironman?

It sounds so simple as I’ve paddled my whole life, but feel a little extra pressure should something go wrong and want to be prepared.

Practice towing
What happens when she bonks and can’t continue

– you might want to practice towing a boat.

Everyone has good days and bad days along with

an occasional injury, sprain, cramp, etc.

Going hard for long distance on water means

attention to caloric intake and water intake.

Additional supplies
You are also her source for fuel. Have available in you cockpit, for her, food and water or whatever beverage she uses when she’s training.

Also, I’d ditch the rope. If she needs a tow, get her up on your back deck.

a life ring maybe
or some other device. If noting else practice with your throw rope and have a spare life preserver handy.

Bring a poncho in the basics kit
If she has to climb onto your boat, she might be both exhausted and cold. The poncho will block wind from chilling her even more, and it’s waterproof so getting it wet won’t matter.

Pool Noodle or Torpedo Buoy Belt
A tired swimmer can wrap a noodle and get enough buoncy quickly -easier than putting on a pfd. I’m not sure they are easy to find but the Torpedo Buoy Belts the Babewatch Lifeguards swim out to troubled swimmers work really well too.

Sinking shouldn’t be a problem…
Women float really well. When I was in college, we did a 30 minute tread water exercise for rescue training. Most of us were on the swim team and were in excellent condition. The women swimmers were lying on their backs, hands behind their heads, floating effortlessly while the males were all treading water to stay afloat. Unless your wife has a lot more muscle mass than a group of college age female competitive swimmers, she should float easily.

So this means that you should worry more about the other conditions that have been mentioned. Thermal protection, injury prevention and recovery, and rescue options. Paddling an open cockpit double will enable you to have a very stable rescue platform and ease your ability to transport an injured swimmer (considering the types of injuries a swimmer may expect to have).

You don’t mention if you are training in salt/fresh water or what the water temperatures will be. For the Ironman, the ocean temps will be at, or about, the range of temperatures you’d expect in a swimming pool (76F-83F) and body suits are permitted, but wetsuits are not. If she is training in water colder than that, she may need additional thermal protection during or after her swims.

If rescue were needed and, heaven forbid, a drowning event occurred, it is critical to be able to get her to treatment quickly if in salt water. Salt in the lungs will draw blood out of the body and cause edema. It isn’t like Hollywood where the victim spits up a pint of water and walks away. Salt water drowning victims need treatment before they drown in there own body fluids.


-one approved water safety throw device (including flotation and attached rope) and sufficient practice to use it when needed from the boat

-spare PFD

-thermal protection for the current conditions (water and air)

-typical kayaking gear including spare paddle (I’ve seen paddles broken during rescues - you don’t want be without a spare)


Breathing issues
Can you address various possible breathing or choking issues associated with her aspirating or swallowing water?

Tow a floating rope with a float
at the end. The rope should be long enough for you to lasso her. If she needs help, turn infront of her so the rope is infront and to the sides of her. The rope will close in on her. The point is to make it so she doesn’t have to swim to the rope. Then she can hold the rope which will lead her to the stern of your boat.

A few things
Even Wally World has the square floatation devices that she can use if she were to cramp or need a break. These are USGS approved throwable floatation devices for $10 or so.

Most folks can’t put on a PFD very easily while they are in the water, much less when they are in distress.

A fairly short poly rope would be fine for a tow, but with most boats it’s just as easy to let them grab the grab handle and just do that.

If she might panic, you will need to be able to toss something without letting her approach your boat. Then talk her down before she makes contact. A panicked swimmer will often see the top of your head as a reasonable place to scratch and claw their way up to.

A VHF radio or cell phone in a waterproof case is also a good thing to have on you if she needs medical attention, but their response time may be quite long depending on where you are.

If she is prone to just hit the wall and tire out, you might take a tube that you can inflate. If she can get on a tube or something similar, towing will be much faster (much less drag). For that matter, a short/cheap SOT might be easy for you to tow around all day. You would need to make sure she has the strength or equipment to get on it when she’s tired though.



Ratio vs. absolute amounts
While female long-distance swimmers allegedly have higher bodyfat % than do females in some other sports (running, cycling, x-c skiing, rock-climbing), how do you know that the wife of the OP does not come from one of these gravity-influenced sports where leanness is highly prized?

The last time I could float without moving arms and legs to keep from sinking was before puberty. After that, muscle:fat ratio increased enough to make effortless floating a thing of the past. It’s not that I have huge amounts of muscle; I don’t. But I also don’t have a lot of fat. It’s this ratio that matters more than the absolute muscle mass. If I put on a full 3mm wetsuit, there is a noticeable boost in flotation. A little bit of extra cush adds a lot of floatiness.

I’ve been a safety boater for several triathlons, and was usually given a large pool noodle or a soft lifeguard float for the swimmers to rest on.

Are you comfortable bracing if she wants to hang on the boat?

If you’re in cold water, you might consider bringing a thermos of something hot to drink.

What’s your plan if she’s unable to continue midway through a swim?

Women and floating
I was strictly speaking of experience of a time when, during the course of swimming workouts, it was common for us to swim (men and women) 12,000-15,000 yards per day (swimmers don’t swim this far any more, but that was the training regimen of our era). Despite this, there wasn’t a woman on any swim team on which I participated that didn’t float reasonably well (in fresh water).

Of course, swimmers tend to retain a bit more fat than runners since the body tends to protect itself from the cold by using other resources first. Still, we had male swimmers with 3%-10% body fat (who didn’t float at all) and some female swimmers as low as 7% that floated reasonably well. I’m not saying that all women float well, just that some women who train pretty hard still have enough buoyancy.


Bone density
I wonder how much variation in bone density affects elite long-distance swimmers.

Since swimming is a non-weight-bearing sport, someone who does a lot of swimming and not much weight-bearing exercise (and has been doing so since childhood) might simply have lower bone density than other fit athletes.

Bone density
"I wonder how much variation in bone density affects elite long-distance swimmers.

Since swimming is a non-weight-bearing sport, someone who does a lot of swimming and not much weight-bearing exercise (and has been doing so since childhood) might simply have lower bone density than other fit athletes."

All elite swimmers not only swim, but lift weights, cycle, run, resistance training with bands or ergometers, and do plyometric exercsise, all of which are weight bearing. In truth, even age group swimmers (as young as 6-8 years old, do most of this except the weightlifting, which most coaches add during the teen years).

So, no, I don’t think you’ll see a difference in bone density, but it was a decent hypothesis.


Fact vs Fiction

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 8:19 PM EST –

The people hardest to float are those with compact,
dense bodies. These tend to be people with athletic body
builds, with a lot of bone and muscle mass, and not much
fat. Fat is not as dense as muscle and bone, so people
who are overweight can actually be easier to float than
someone who is much smaller and leaner. Heavy people do
not need a higher buoyancy PFD because of their weight.

I saw some Ironman women training
(running) once.No T and very little A translates to not much buoyancy.