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Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.

From The New York Times:

Her Parents Thought Swimming Lessons Were a Good Idea

Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.…

Former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka

Good video about former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka


"Best practices" for swim and water safety tests?

Jayson asked me about the swim test I completed a few days ago for my rowing club; this sparked my curiosity about what other aquatics clubs use to determine whether individuals are prepared to participate.

1) What's the standard in your sport (or specific club)? 

2) Do you think that the current test is a good assessment of whether or not an individual would be safe in the event of an accident?


I did a search for US Rowing standards, and found this link http://qs.phly.com/selectsurvey/Pages/USRowing/SwimTest.html with a few guidelines. As mentioned on the page, I think waivers (i.e., said person can swim in order to participate in rowing) are not a good option in most cases. I coached rowing two summers with youth whose parents signed waivers but I will NEVER do that again. I had to question how ethical it was for the club to accept waivers, not knowing for sure and witnessing that each child would be safe in a boating accident. Thankfully, everyone was okay...

Over the years I've learned that more than a few rowing clubs use waivers to get around the logistics of ensuring that everyone can swim. Although in larger boats (i.e., 8's) flipping is unlikely, accidents can happen (like this one last month with a University of Cinncinatti crew): http://www.wlwt.com/r/27434057/detail.html


Let's all be safe rather than sorry!

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The scenario described above is a serious accident waiting to happen.  In my humble opinion, waivers are not strong enough to protect oneself from a civil lawsuit or tort law in a criminal case.  An assumption of risk agreement is stronger than a simple waiver.  If you charge for this service, your standards better be high and you ought to have a liability insurance policy (at the least) to cover potential accidents or losses.  Last but not least, the leader MUST (sorry for shouting) give a performance watermanship test to the individuals who participate, or trust this activity to a trusted professional and qualified individual who can access skills.  My question is this:  Why would a parent or guardian entrust their child or loved one to people who may not be qualified to lead a rowing group?  I have my  20 questions ready to go!

P.S.  The US Rowing PASS test is very easy to achieve for a swimmer.  It may work in flat water with little or no current.  Professionally, I may want to bump it up to 100 yards because this distance will assess breathing skills as well as an effective stroke for self-rescue.  And of course, wear a PFD, which also requires handling skills and testing.  Learn the art and skill of swimming for rowing enjoyment, therefore, it can become an incentive to learn swimming.   These are my two cents about the matter.

Actual swim tests signed by a life guard are the only acceptable forms of swim verification at any of the clubs I have worked with. In my opinion, USRowing needs to set tougher standards (same link as posted above: http://qs.phly.com/selectsurvey/Pages/USRowing/SwimTest.html ), but their lack of firm stance on the matter should not get in the way of common sense for the rest of us, and every club and team should accept ONLY verified swim tests as proof of swimming ability and never a waiver. I tell kids who are reluctant to get into the pool for swim lessons when necessary, that I am not really asking them to learn how to swim, I am asking them to learn how to not drown.

Errol, Thanks a lot for your reply. I agree with you 100% that we were in an "accident waiting to happen" situation. I am not sure how the particular club got by with the waiver, but it is particularly alarming knowing that oftentimes the participants were minority youth who (by demographically probability) were likely not proficient swimmers. It may have been an "assumption of risk" statement but I don't recall...I was US Rowing certified and trained to drive a launch and coach, but I was also young and certainly not experienced enough to really know what to do in case of an accident. Many of the other summer coaches were young college rowers as well, so I can't say that as a group we had too many years of experience either.  I did express some of my concerns with the director, and hopefully things have changed significantly since then.


Regarding parents, you might imagine that in some areas where parents can't really afford summer camps, free opportunities for their children to be involved in almost any activity can be quite attractive. And in our case, oftentimes we went through trustworthy organizations that parents were familiar with, and so by extension they felt that their children would be in good hands. As I said, I certainly wouldn't be involved with this arrangement again without actual swim tests, but at the time as an eager broke college kid and new coach (and using the most stable boats possible) I went ahead. I certainly wouldn't do it again and wouldn't advise anyone else to either.


I agree that the US Rowing test is quite easy. The one we did in college was more demanding, and the one for my current club was pretty easy (with a certified lifeguard's signature). There's a more demanding test involved for single scullers too, but I haven't done that yet. My last club rowing experience involved an assumption of risk statement. So, there still seems to be a lot of variation out there...


I welcome additional comments and questions...Thanks for getting this started!

Ellen, Thanks for your reply. I agree that US Rowing needs to set tougher standards. I wish that actual swim tests were at least the minimum, but I have rowed with a pretty large club that only required assumption of risk statements, and coached for one (as noted in my original post) that allowed for waivers (well, I'm calling it a waiver, but after Errol's post I think it's possible that it was also an assumption of risk statement). In addition, when I attended US Rowing's "Changing the Tides" events a few years back, I learned that more than a few organizations used forms of some sort to get around having to assume the costs and time associated with teaching youth underrepresented in rowing to swim. In these cases, usually the kids wore life jackets while rowing, but I'm personally not convinced that in high currents and under panicky conditions that that's sufficient. Furthermore, it's hard to "fully" experience rowing with a life jacket on...


I'd love to hear others' thoughts about life jackets as "life savers."



". . . teaching (and training) them to learn how to not drown."  Now I like that, I could not have thought of a better way to to express to people about how to stay alive when going on or in the the water.  Good thought, Ellen.

Best "life skill" ever.


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