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Kayaker Instructions & Information


Kayaker Instructions – 9 Mile Swim

We are asking every Kayaker and swimmer to read these instructions as they prepare for Swim Ocean City.  The first part contains some basic information.  The second part includes what we hope are helpful tips about guiding and supporting your swimmer.


  • General – We are swimming in waters that are guarded and owned by the Town of Ocean City and the Ocean City Beach Patrol. The Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) in conjunction with race officials and medical personnel shall have ultimate authority to remove a contestant and/or kayak escort from the race if judged to be physically incapable of continuing the race without risk of serious injury or death.
  • OCBP – Beach based Lifeguards on duty will be at approximately 400 yard spacing. OCBP will have Life Guards on kayaks, paddle boards and jet skis patrolling the swim to assist or call for help if you become distressed. The swim lane is approximately 300 feet off the beach and marked by buoys.
  • Help signal – If you want help RAISE YOUR ARM WITH A FIST. All spotters on the water will take action to aid you.
  • Leaving water – Swimmers who leave the water will first be evaluated by the nearest OCBP who will determine medical attention, rest or release. OCBP will notify Ocean Games staff, which will send a vehicle to collect the swimmer. If your swimmer abandons the race, please remain on the water and provide additional support for the remaining swimmers. If you cannot provide support, you must exit beyond the Finish Line @ 146th Street. If your swimmer abandons the race within 3 miles and you cannot provide support for the remaining swimmers, you may return to the Start Line (Caroline St).  If Kayak support returns to Start line, please exit the water north of East Coast SUP Cup @ Caroline Street. You must notify a race official if you abandon the race. If are in trouble or need of assistance at any time, wave your paddle above your head to alert support. Beach landings should be avoided except in emergencies.
  • Touching bottom – If the swimmer happens to touch bottom she/he may move toward the buoy markers but not proceed forward until treading water. If the swimmer proceeds forward while in contact with the bottom she/he will be disqualified.
  • Feeding – The escort kayaker will carry the swimmers nourishment. There are no restrictions concerning consumption of nourishment.
  • Accounting – All contestants and kayakers must be accounted for both getting in and out of the water. This is a safety measure designed to maintain an accurate count of swimmers. Safety/Starter will take attendance prior to swim.  At the finish line you must check in with the timer and be sure that they have your numbers.  If you do not complete the Swim it is the contestant’s responsibility to give your name and number to a race official so that we know that you have gotten out of the water.
  • Buoys – turn buoys (orange) at start of 1mile, 3 mile, 9 mile and finish locations – interim buoys (green) intermittently along the length of beach. Nutrition stop buoys (yellow) at boat anchored locations. Swimmers are to swim on the inside of all of the buoys except for the start and finish line buoys which will be located closer to shore. This is being done to keep the swimmers out of boat traffic areas as well as from going too far from land for observation.

What to Bring:

  1. Fuel and Drink for your swimmer (will be provided by your swimmer)
  2. Fuel and Drink for yourself (will be provided by you)
  3. A watch (so you can time the feedings)
  4. A PFD for yourself.
  5. An extra PFD for your swimmer in case he or she needs assistance.
  6. A cell phone with plastic bag to protect it.
  7. A red bandana or other “flag” to signal for assistance.
  8. A whistle or air horn or other audible means to signal for assistance
  9. Plenty of sunscreen
  10. Dress in layers (temperatures will change during the day)
  11. A hat and rain gear
  12. A cup for bailing and peeing

The Most Important Safety Rule:  

If your swimmer is in distress you are not allowed to try to rescue them from the kayak or dive into the water yourself.  That is the most dangerous thing you can do.  You are to toss the swimmer a PFD for his or her use and signal for help from a motorized patrol boat or lifeguard in as many ways as possible.  A flag, a whistle or horn, a cell phone call.  (We will provide the numbers on the day of the event)

If you have concerns about your swimmer’s condition, you can also ask for assistance from the Patrol Boats or Beach Patrol so that an evaluation can be undertaken by trained safety personnel.

Pre-Race Dinner and Safety Meeting Friday Evening

Swimmers who will be using volunteer kayakers are strongly urged to attend the Swimmers and Kayakers Safety Meeting Friday night at Lutheran Church (10301 Coastal Hwy in Ocean City) from 6 – 9 PM, so that you can meet and discuss the feeding routine and paddling strategies for the swim itself.  We are requiring each of our volunteer kayakers to attend the meeting as well so that they can meet their swimmers.

Volunteer Kayaker/Swimmer Matchings

Prior to the race we will send out matchings of particular volunteers with their swimmers including e-mail addresses so that volunteer kayakers can communicate with their swimmers during the coming weeks.  We strongly recommend that swimmers and kayakers communicate regarding the swimmer’s goals (to win or just to finish), swim strategy, their feeding plan / schedule, and anything else they need to know about the swimmer.

Saturday Morning

Sign in on Saturday opens at 8:30 am for the 9 mile swimmers.  All 9 mile swimmers and their kayakers are required to be on the beach at the Caroline St. location at 8:30am to hear final instructions regarding the swims and to then deploy.

9 mile Kyakers will depart the beach at 9:15 am so that they can be in the water and positioned by 10:00 am.

All Kayakers will have a bib with their swimmer’s number which must be worn throughout the race.  They will line up past the 1st turn buoy heading in the direction of the second buoy.  When their swimmer approaches they will engage and join the swim.

Additional Info and Advice to Kayakers and their Swimmers

This information and advice is primarily aimed at those of you who have never guided a swimmer before.  But I would invite even the more experienced kayakers (and swimmers) to spend a minute to review this.

You are the navigator.  Spot the Buoy and stay the course.  Swimmers are stubborn Idiots who will take you into New Jersey or across the Ocean if you let them.

One of your primary functions is to guide your swimmer.   We will give each of you a chart at sign in.  The courses are also on line.  Our buoys are visible but far apart.  When you reach the first buoy spot the next buoy and stay the course.  You have the site on the buoy, they don’t.  You have eyes well above the water line, they don’t.  (Put another way, they are blind and stubborn, water logged idiots. You are a beacon of light and intelligence to guide them through the mist).  You should be close to your swimmer, 5 to 10 feet to their right or left.  Some swimmers like to be in the lead a little bit, some side by side, some want you in the lead.  That should be their decision.  Once you make that decision on placement, don’t let the swimmer push you off course.  Go slower or faster depending on swimming speed, but don’t  let the swimmer push you to the right or left.  You paddle the straightest course you can at the swimmer’s swimming speed and let the swimmer keep the right distance from you.  You are their  marker.

Many swimmers tend to favor one side or the other and will tend to “lean” to the left or right and will wander off course if left to their own devices.  Biggest mistake kyakers make is to adjust to keep a certain distance from the swimmer.  As a result, many wandered wide on the long stretches, turning a 9 mile swim into a 12 mile swim.  My recommendation, if a swimmer tends to “lean” left, you should position yourself on the left side so they turn into you, not away from you.  Let them bump right into the kayak if that’s what it takes to keep them on course.  If they are drifting away from you, whack the water with your paddle and get their attention.    If your regular position is behind them, pull forward so that they can see you and get back to the right course. There can be strong currents in the water, usually the closer to shore the stronger the current.  Please use this to your advantage keeping the swimmer closer to land.  Swimming is only one part of an open water swim.  The rest is navigation.

Feed them and water them on a regular basis.  Once you set the time for the intervals, it is your responsibility to “interrupt” your swimmer who will be in the zone and tell them IT’S CHOW TIME!

Your next primary responsibility is to feed and water your swimmer on regular intervals, generally between 30 and 45 minutes.  Figure out with your swimmer what the schedule is and what exactly they want at each feeding.  You have the watch.  Keep track of the time.  Signal to your swimmer when to stop to feed.  They do not have a watch.  They will not know when to stop.  They will tend to want to keep on swimming until they are hungry.  By that point in time, IT MAY BE TOO LATE!  It is best to stay ahead of the hunger curve, especially in cold water.  Keep their nutrients up, so they don’t have a period of time when they are under nourished.  They can get cold, and cranky, and get CRAMPS.

When you are planning the timing of the feedings before the race, the swimmer will set the time (my recommendation to swimmers is to plan feedings at shorter intervals in lesser amounts rather than to  space them out too much and creating the risk of falling behind the swimmer’s nutrition needs).  Then it is your job to keep them to the schedule.  Remember, swimmers are stubborn idiots who just want to swim and swim and swim.  You have the watch.  You have the schedule.  You are the pit crew.  You bring your swimmer into the pit for a feed stop.  That is your job.

If your swimmer is an experienced veteran of marathon swimming, they will adjust during the swim and you should obviously take their lead.  But, for some folks, this is their very first 9 mile swim.  For others, the water temperatures may be different from what they have experienced before.  For them, you will need to take charge and keep track of the time.

Bring an extra PFD with you and an air horn, a whistle, a cell phone (in a plastic bag), and a bandana to waive

If you are using a race provided kayak, we will be providing you with a whistle and an extra PFD.  (We are also providing each patrol boat with an extra paddle in case your kayaker breaks theirs. You will not be expected to pull a swimmer out of the water.   That’s for the big boys and girls in their big boats.  You know, the fat and sassy ones smiling and laughing in the boats with the motors.  You will consult with your swimmer if they are experiencing problems, you will toss them a PFD to help them, and you will signal to the patrol boats.  They are not watching the swimmers.  They are watching you.  They are the ones who can pull the swimmer out of the water if needed, not you.   We will provide a number for you to call on your cell phone if you are not getting a quick response to your first signal for help.

We’ll be making up cards with this number for distribution at sign in.  But, we thought some of you would want it now.

Be sure to bring your own water and chow and layers, and hat and sun screen.

Remember you have to feed and water and take care of yourself too.  (Isn’t that the hardest part in life?)

AND PEEING CUP,  bed pan, or some Depends or whatever it takes. 

OK, let’s talk about the dirty little issue – the secret burden that kayakers bear  –  peeing.   Guys have it made in the shade.  Bring a cup, pee when you want, and toss.  (The planet will survive this little gesture of IDGAS)  Gals have the harder time with this.  For some of you a cup works fine.  (I don’t know how you do it, but some of you do.)  Bed pans work.  And so do a few Depends.  You don’t have to wear the Depend throughout the entire race, just slip one on when you need it and then bring a solid plastic bag to stash it so you don’t have to smell it the rest of the way around the course. 

Bail out

Swim Ocean City is a 9 mile race.  We will have race personnel on the beach at the 3 mile and 6 mile points.  This is also where boats will be anchor for additional nutrition.  If you decide to discontinue the race these locations would be the recommended spots.  This would be a good area to evaluate the condition of your swimmer so it you would decide to stop, we would suggest here.  If swimmers want to stop and rest, that’s fine with us.  In the event of a sudden emergency, like a sudden threat of lightening, the Race Diretor or Ocean City Beach Patrol will whistle you in. This means the swim has been called and all swimmers and their kayakers should get off the water as quickly as possible.  You and your swimmer should directly head to the beach and proceed to evacuate the beach.  Please take your kayak up to the street by the beach for future pick up.