The waves on the Great Lakes can exceed 2 metres, even if the forecast was for less than 1/2 metre. The large boats are the platform for operations for the swim and the safety back up in case of adverse conditions. The larger the boat, the more stable it is in waves and the less likely the swim will need to be evacuated due to weather. Through many years of experience, we have found that the large boats have to be at least 9 m (30 feet) in length. Unfortunately most boats of this size on Lake Ontario are pleasure boaters, with fishing charters being smaller and party boat charters being larger. Some Lake Erie fishing charters boats are 30 feet or longer.
In terms of acquiring boats, the swimmer has a choice. They can hire a boat and captain or enlist volunteer captains with adequate boats. The boat requirements are different depending on the captain's experience in accompanying a marathon swimmer. The experience is important not only for navigation, but for being able to stay on course with a swimmer possibly swimming at the boat's flank and knowledge of the equipment required. If the captain has never accompanied a swimmer before, then TWO large (9+m) boats and TWO inflatable (4m) boats are required. If the captain is experienced, then one large boat and 2 inflatables are adequate.
If the swimmer choses to enlist volunteer captains, SSO requires two boats, each at least 9m (30 feet) in length for a swim on a Great Lake.
It is recommended that the "lead" boat be a sailboat and the "tail" boat be motor powered.
In case of emergency, for evacuation purposes, one of the boats should be capable of a speed of at least 15 knots.
The navigational system on at least one of the boats should be GPS. There should be compass back-up and a chart of the lake.
All accompanying boats should have lightning rods and/or be properly grounded. A radar reflector is highly recommended.
There should be VHF ship-to-shore radio on at least one boat.
There should be cooking facilities on at least one boat to heat food for the swimmer and crew.
The boats should permit easy access for transferring crew and swimmers to and from the lifeguard boats and the water.
All boats should have the mandated safety equipment including lifejackets for all on board.
Extra lighting and spotlights are necessary. An extra marine battery is recommended.
Through many years of experience, we have learned the hard way that inflatable boats are the best for staying by the swimmer's side and riding the waves. Rigid hull boats are totally unsuitable for this job.
The swimmer has to provide two inflatable boats, at least 4 m (14 feet) in length, with 7.5 to 15 HP motors, equipped with running lights (bow and stern), sufficient gas, life jackets or personal floatation devices (PFDs), throw ropes, a tested towing system, and safety equipment as required by the coast guard. A VHF radio and GPS are strongly recommended.
The following marine companies rent inflatables:
Only ONE kayak is allowed on a swim. Someone in the lifeguard boat has to be assigned to lifeguard the kayak. Vigilance in watching the kayak is especially required at night and in waves. SSO strongly recommends the use of the sit-on-top (unsinkable) model of kayak. All paddlers using the spray-skirt type kayak should be proficient in the Eskimo roll. There should be room on one of the Large Boats in the flotilla to accommodate the kayak in the event of unfavourable conditions or evacuation.
Alternate Boat Plans
All deviations from the above boat requirements have to be approved by the Board.
The board may approve flotillas comprised of a large powerboat, a 4-6 m Rigid Inflatable (with VHF radio, GPS, and capable of crossing Lake Ontario unassisted) and a 4 m inflatable in certain conditions. This flotilla requires some experience from the captains and is not as resilient in waves, darkness, and other dangerous situations.
The boating requirements are not as stringent for smaller lakes.