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Swim PilotingProtection & Safety

Protecting Swimmers (from Motorized Boats)

Motorized craft hitting swimmers is probably the biggest risk that swimmers face in open water, and one of the primary reasons we require pilot support for swims in the bay. The Dolphin Club learned this lesson the hard way when Jim Small was run over and killed by a fishing vessel while attempting a swim from Sausalito in 1964.

First, protect them from your own boat!

Realize that you are a risk to swimmers. While piloting swimmers, stay alert, and pay attention. Avoid idle chatter and keep a sharp eye out for swimmers.

When piloting close to swimmers, stay downwind. This will avoid covering them in fumes, and also reduces the risk of being blown onto them 

Put the engine into neutral around swimmers. Announce to all when you’re moving in and out of gear, so they know it’s safe. 

Be careful about motoring into sun… swimmers are particularly hard to see. Early morning and late afternoon swims can create a situation where the swimmer can be nearly invisible to other boats and your own, because the reflection of the sun on the water that is directly behind them. 

It is important that pilots do not allow themselves to stray too far from swimmers under these conditions. Oncoming traffic might avoid you by heading directly at the unseen swimmers.

Then, Protect Swimmers from Other Boats

Keep a sharp eye out for vessels that are on a heading that will come close to the swim. If you see a vessel coming towards you, your job is to communicate that a swim is in progress, and coax them to stay clear.

Motorized Craft Interception Technique

  • Maneuver your boat between the vessel and the swim
  • Move in a way as to encourage the vessels to alter course towards safety. 
  • Wave flag until vessel slows. 
  • Point your arm firmly in the direction you want the vessel to go
  • Be polite. We don’t own the bay. 
  • 5 short blasts!

Rowboats and Kayaks. 

  • Position your craft between the swimmer and the other vessel. 
  • Notify motorized vessels by radio
  • Wave flag.
  • Slow Down Gestures.

Communicating with Others

Often you might see a problem, but won’t be the best boat to intercept oncoming traffic. In which case, use your radio to alert other pilots so they can intercept.

We often refer to other fast motor boats as “High Speeds.” If you spot a motor boat coming towards the swim, announce it, and the direction it is coming from. You can refer to a point on the compass or a land mark. Example: ”High speed coming from the North” or “High speed coming from Sausalito/Creakers/Gas House Cove”

Include the story of Jim’s death are explained in detail in an article by Brian Gilbert in the Dolphin Log from the Spring of 2002, available online through the club website