Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association Issues Safety Protocols In Readiness For Return To Water

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The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association - Photo Courtesy: SBCSA, background image courtesy Craig Lord

The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA) has issued a COVID-19 update with guidelines and protocols for the resumption of open water swims from July 1 after the State of California switched to stage 2 of its phased reopening, including easing of Shelter-In-Place orders and a controlled revival of sport.

The protocols, including safety measures for escort boats, are relevant to all operators of open water events, the safety aspects of which can be a matter of life and death.

The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association statement in full:

The SBCSA is committed to supporting and certifying marathon swims in the California Channel Islands, while also promoting the safety of the swimmer, support team, pilot, and observer. Like many organizations, we are grappling with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic for our operations. While physical distancing protocols have shut down many organized group swims and races in North America, the application of these protocols to solo marathon swimming is lacking clear guidelines.

Given our dual commitments to both sanctioning swims and promoting safety, we felt it appropriate to investigate not just the binary question of whether solo marathon swims can be undertaken safely and in compliance with government regulations; but also how we might design safety protocols to continue safely supporting swims in this uniquely challenging environment.

As of June 18, 2020, the State of California is in Stage 2 of its phased re-opening. Ventura County and Santa Barbara County are in late Stage 2. Ocean swimming and charter boat excursions are both legal activities, provided physical distancing guidelines are met.

Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association Sanction Policy for 2020 Swims

Starting July 1, the SBCSA will resume limited sanctioning of solo and duo-tandem swims for residents of the contiguous 48 U.S. states. Supported routes include:

  • Anacapa-Oxnard, either direction (12.2 miles)
  • Anacapa circumnavigation (11.7 miles)
  • Anacapa-Santa Cruz island hopper, 1-way or 2-way (4.6-9.2 miles)

Sanctioning is temporarily paused for:

  • All other Channel Islands routes other than the above listed.
  • Relay swims.
  • Tandems with more than two swimmers.
  • Swims involving travel from outside the contiguous 48 U.S. states.
  • Swims in which the swimmer’s expected speed will result in a dock to dock duration of more than 12 hours (regardless of swim route).

To promote physical distancing on the escort boat, swimmers may bring no more than two support crew members, including paddler if used.

To promote consistent safety protocols on the escort boat, sanctioning is temporarily limited to swims escorted by approved captains who have provided the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association with an acceptable plan to minimize the risk of viral transmission among event participants. Additional details in the following section.

The SBCSA will resume support for longer swim routes, relay swims, and long-haul travel when government restrictions are lifted more fully and we believe we can safely accommodate such events.

Please note: Due the the dynamic nature of the pandemic and government response, the SBCSA may modify these policies and protocols at any time, up to and including canceling the rest of the season. For anyone who prefers not to operate under such uncertainty, we encourage them to postpone their swim until a more stable environment prevails.

Safety Protocols on the Escort Boat

In order for a boat captain to be approved to pilot SBCSA –Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association – swims in 2020, they must provide us with a COVID-19 Safety Plan that 1) reduces the likelihood of an infected person participating in a swim and 2) minimizes the risk of viral transmission while a swim is taking place. At minimum, the Plan must address:

  • Sanitizing the boat prior to a swim event
  • Convenient availability of hand sanitizer throughout the swim event
  • Availability of soap, water, and paper towels to encourage regular hand washing
  • Encouragement for participants to practice physical distancing onboard the boat
  • Encouragement for participants to stay outside, as permitted by safety, weather, and physical stamina
  • Prohibition of multiple people sleeping in the same berth
  • Requirement of face masks below decks at all times (even when sleeping)
  • Informing the swim participants of the Plan prior to travel to the location of the swim event
  • Sanitation available in the restroom after each use of the head
  • Placement of laminated signage on the boat in appropriate locations. Signage must include at a minimum:
    • Face masks must be worn in the cabin at all times.
    • Face masks must be worn on deck if less than 6 feet apart.
    • Maintain 6-foot distance whenever possible.
    • Sanitize table and counter surfaces after use.
    • Sanitize the head after each use.
    • Maximum one person per bunk.

The Elka Lynn, operating out of Channel Islands Harbor, is currently scheduled to escort >80% of our 2020 swims. We have been actively working with the owner/captain of this vessel to ensure compliance with our COVID-19 policy. The Elka Lynn is the only boat currently vetted and approved to escort 2020 swimmers under the SBCSA – Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association –  sanction.

We are in contact with other boat owners who have previously escorted Channel Islands marathon swims, and will evaluate their plans on a case-by-case basis so that they may become eligible to escort swims under SBCSA sanction.

Postponements, Cancellations, Fees, and Refunds

  • In light of the challenging economic climate, the discounted pre-May 1st “early bird” sanction fees are extended through the end of 2020.
  • Any registered swimmer who wishes to postpone their swim to 2021 may do so without penalty and without having to re-apply for sanction.
  • Any registered swimmer who wishes to cancel their swim plans is eligible for a full refund of any sancion fees paid. However, a new sanction application is required for any future swim.

The statement was issued by the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association Board of Directors: Jane Cairns, Cherie Edborg, Peter Hayden, Evan Morrison, and Dave Van Mouwerik.

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