Our primary job as part of the Safety Fleet is to be able to mass evacuate everyone from the water when necessary (e.g. in case of thunder or lightning). While we’re there, though, we do the following:
- Provide moral support. Every swimmer who’s commented on this has said, without fail, that just seeing kayakers out there makes them feel safer and makes it easier to continue the swim. Cheering them on helps too, although they may not hear you as they’re concentrating so hard on swimming.
- Provide brief rests. Swimmers can absolutely hang on to your boat to rest, as long as you keep position. Be sure to have them grab the front (bow) or back (stern) of your boat, preferably the front so you can see them. If they grab you near your cockpit, you’ll be joining them momentarily.
- Help get swimmers out of the water. Sometimes swimmers recognize when they’re done, and they ask to be removed. Under some situations (such as when they exit the spans due to current, or don’t make the mile markers by the time cut-off), they are disqualified and have to be pulled. There are rare situations where a swimmer doesn’t really want to stop swimming but you have to decide for them. The phrase “perhaps today is not your day” usually helps them realize their swim is done for the day.
- Keep swimmers on course. Swimmers are totally focused on swimming and can’t really see which direction they’re going, so you may need to nudge them to turn and guide them between the entrance and exit markers.
- Keep an eye on swimmers. While this has not ever been an issue in the past, it’s highly recommended that you be familiar with the signs of someone who’s drowning (they won’t be splashing about calling for help). This website is an excellent read (thank you Kevin for reminding me): http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/
If you have to pull a swimmer, get the attention of one of the Sweep Boats (power boats with a yellow numbered SWEEP BOAT sign) by using your whistle or waving your paddle, and get the swimmer over to that boat (they can’t come to you). Jet Skis may be able to give the swimmer a lift as well. Note that the sweep boats are not listening to the VHF channel kayaks use. Also note that other vessels in the area (e.g. law enforcement) are not going to respond. Swimmers must exit onto a sweep boat.