Four moods of the ocean you must know

Ocean Playground lifesaving

Photo: Meekael Willis

One could wax lyrical (and many have) about the moods of the ocean but for a lifesaver and multisporter the ocean is a rewarding playground. Now with summer here, there will always be an excuse to hit the beach to either train or just play. Here is some helpful advice to tackle your summer training.

Silky Smooth
A flat, smooth ocean is by far the least intimidating. There’s no swell, seemingly no currents and just loads of open water fun beckoning. It might surprise you then that a lot of drownings occur when the sea is actually calm.

A flat sea encourages even the most nervous and under-prepared swimmer or paddler to enter the depths for more time than they’re used to. Fatigue and cramping takes its toll and given that alert levels are subdued, distress is detected later than usual. Drowning is frighteningly silent and quick, in strong contrast to Hollywood depictions.

Also, currents flow under the surface of the water and can wash you away faster than Michael Phelps in a final, so don’t be fooled by the appearance of calm.

In flat, silky smooth seas, always swim between the flags or under the watchful eyes of duty lifeguards. If you’re out paddling, do not leave the shore ignoring your regular safety equipment.

Wild and Wooly
By contrast, a wild ocean is a natural deterrent. Only the experienced dare play in the maelstrom. Exactly what constitutes risky is largely a personal assessment and choice but if ever in doubt, stay out the water. Panicking in the ocean is highly discouraged.

Of course, if you need to gain experience in these conditions, be patient and progressively spend time developing strength and awareness of the ocean. There is no short-cut to mastering the sea.

Wind
Offshore
When the wind is blowing from the land, out to sea. You will notice spray on the waves and the ocean looks ‘clean’. Be aware that if you’re on a craft and come unstuck, you will more than likely be blown out to sea.

Onshore Opposite to offshore. The waves will be messy and generally everything that’s in the ocean ends up in the shore-break, including: blue bottles and debris. The advantage to onshore however is that should you get into trouble, you will drift onto the beach.

Beaufort Scale A measure in how strong the wind is. The wind makes a huge difference to your training when you’re out at sea. Be sure to get a good feel for what is safe for you and double-check your forecasts. Almost anything under 20 knots should be manageable but be aware of the gusts!

Lastly, also remember that shouting into the wind doesn’t help. Make sure you are highly visible by either wearing a bright safe-colour swim cap (red or yellow) or PFD and clothing. See you in the water!

Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue.

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About Bryan Allott

Bryan has competed in lifesaving and triathlon since 1992 and is the current Around the Rocks open water swim champ. Unable to love just one sport, you’ll find him out on a beach, near an ocean, mountain, the trail or the bush

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