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History of SSO

     SSO is the oldest marathon swimming governing body in North America

  • The Ontario Association of Solo Swims was established upon the recommendation of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, Sports Fitness Branch, in 1975 as a result of a coroner's inquest (see below) into the drowning of a man attempting a swim across Lake Ontario without adequate safety precautions.

  • The Association incorporated and changed its name to Solo Swims of Ontario Inc. (SSO) in 1990.

  • For 20 years, from its inception in 1975, SSO worked with an annual operating grant from the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation of the province of Ontario. These grants were administered by the Ontario Sports Centre who also assigned a Program Consultant to monitor the operations of SSO. In line with other Ontario government cut-backs, this grant was discontinued in 1996.

  • SSO became registered as a Charity on 1st December 2004.

  • SSO now operates as a registered corporation, working with a not-for-profit goal.

  • SSO is first and foremost a safety organization.

  • It is recognized as the provincial swimming body for governing individuals participating in a long distance solo swims in Ontario.

  • The organization is run by a volunteer Board of Directors, with the support of an Advisory Committee.

VERDICT OF CORONER'S JURY (shortened version)

The Coroners Act - Province of Ontario

We, the jury serving on the inquest into the death of Neil MacNEIL aged 17 years, held at 86 Lombard Street, Toronto on the 12, 13, 14, 15 day of November 1974, by Dr P. King, Coroner, having been duly sworn, have inquired into and determined the following:

  1. Name of deceased: Neil MacNeil.

  2. Date and time of death: September 7, 1974, sometime after 3:45 pm.

  3. Place of death: Lake Ontario, approximately 6.5 miles North of Youngstown, New York.

  4. Cause of death: Missing, and presumed drowned.

  5. By what means: In an attempt to swim from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario, Mr MacNeil became separated from his pace swimmer, and the accompanying boat. Factors contributing to the unfortunate incident were an overloaded boat, lack of boating, swimming or navigational experience, youthful exuberance, and lack of organization.

Signatures of Jurors: J. Corrigan (Foreman); W. Evans; P. Barker; Marianne Genise; Joyce Bentham.

This verdict was received by me this 15th day of November 1974: E.P. King, M.D., Regional Coroner for Area No. 0, Region "D"


  1. We recommend that the Ministry of Community Services establish, and fund a governing body for the regulation of long distance swims, by April 30, 1975.

  2. The regulatory body should establish standards regarding the physical condition and capabilities of the swimmer, and the facilities, equipment, and support systems required.

  3. We recommend that the standards established by the regulatory body incorporate the "Gus Ryder Plan for Long Distance Swimming", (exhibit #12, copy attached), and any recommendations of the Sports Advisory Committee, chaired by Mr A. Lee.

  4. We recommend that the Sports Advisory Committee make its report on or before January 31, 1975, to the Honourable Rene Brunelle.

  5. We recommend that the news media be approached by the regulatory body, regarding an agreement, in the public interest, to refrain from publicizing reports of intention to long distance swim, or to give coverage to long distance swims, which are not sanctioned by the proposed regulatory body of the Ministry of Community Services.

In conclusion, the jury wishes to convey sincere sympathy to the MacNeil family and to express gratitude to all those who assisted in the search for Mr. MacNeil and the rescue of the group. JC

Gus Ryder Swim Plan for Distance Swimming (Exhibit # 12)

  1. First let me point out that I have been around Lake Ontario all of my life, and I found out by daily experience that you can never count on Lake Ontario, or any body of water for that matter; thus stringent regulations must be formed and enforced. This plan was established and used by me since 1930, and proved successful in swims all over the world, and has been endorsed by the English Channel Swimming Association (see further on).

  2. If the swimmer is a minor, written permission from parents is required as a must. Also a M.D. certificate is required, showing the swimmer's condition - the swimmer should also be under his/her supervision during training. We always had an M.D. for Marilyn Bell's and Cliff Lumsdon's swims.

  3. On all swims an M.D. was in constant attendance. Also advising re foods etc., and definitely present when an event is staged.

  4. Swim coaches should be certified as to the extent of amateur training, or any training and amount they have received. It should also be documented as to what lifesaving awards etc. they hold. All in the coaching boat should hold lifesaving awards.

  5. The Coaching Boat should be a minimum of 18 feet in length, and be equipped fully with handy life preservers that can be thrown out immediately; also, resuscitation equipment should be available. In the boat should be a neutral observer, plus the swimmer's coach, and any pacers - all under the coach's direction. The coach should always be in a supervisory position and not in the water. He/she is the one to make the decisions.

  6. There should be second-to-second supervision of the swimmer, and the coaching boat should be not anymore than 6 feet away from the swimmer, allowing for wash or waves. When the boat stops, then the swimmer stops and vice versa.

  7. There should be a backup boat that could handle the whole party in case of a storm. This boat should be a type of mini-yacht - ones we have used were around 45 to 75 feet long. All others (including the parents, the M.D. with extra food, and the equipment) should be on this backup boat. This boat should be about 50 feet away from the swimmer. Both boats should be positioned so no gasoline or diesel fumes get to the swimmer.

  8. The swimmer should swim between the two boats - i.e. the coaching boat and the backup boat - thus forming a protective lane for the swimmer and ensuring double protection, with the swimmer in view at all times and help just feet away. This procedure also keeps the small boats away. The backup boat can be used for encouraging the swimmer, plus providing protection, etc., etc.

  9. Night swimming is extremely hazardous. If you lose a swimmer in darkness, it is almost impossible to find the spot or swimmer; thus the coaching boat and backup boat should have lights on the swimmer at all times.

  10. Several pair of goggles should be part of every swimmer's kit. In fact, all the necessary equipment should be doubled, just in case. Gas, food, etc., even motors for outboards, as well as oars should be included.

  11. It should be compulsory for swimmers to wear goggles. The M.D. should check all foods, etc. - especially during the training period, so that the swimmer will be used to them.

  12. Each coach should file with authorities information regarding how long the swimmer has been training, his/her amateur status, his/her rating, and must not have any handicaps.

  13. The age limit of the swimmer should be at least 16 years old. All small boats should be kept away from the swimmer's lane, thus avoiding the swimmer being cut-up or bothered with gas and waves.

  14. Only swimmers designated by the Coach should be allowed in the water with the swimmer. A neutral observer should be appointed by a neutral body to see regulations are lived up to. The observer would not interfere with the coach or swimmer, but would make a report to the governing body, or report to the coach any violations, etc.

  15. The coaching and backup boat should be equipped with a compass. The backup boat should be under the control of an experienced boatman or officer; this requirement is most important, as the backup boat may have to take over as the lead boat. An experienced mariner is necessary to keep the swimmer on course.

  16. The neutral observer will determine when the swim is officially ended, and will also see that the coaching boat is the only one to pick up the swimmer at the finish. With the aid of lifeguards at the finish, the observer will also keep all small boats away from the swimmer.

  17. The coaching boat and pickup boat should have electronic communications (Walkie Talkie or radio devices), so communications may be kept between the two boats. Backup boats could have extra equipment plus extra oars, just in case, plus lifesaving equipment.

  18. The swimmer must receive second-to-second supervision at all times, night and day. A ladder could be on the coaching boat to make easy egress from the water.

  19. In all our swims we have used this plan - including Lake Ontario; Atlantic City; both ways on Juan de Fuca; English Channel; and a dozen swims at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto. I might also add that all weather reports should be scanned at all times before and during the swim.

  20. The English Channel Swimming Association (CSA) requires a swimmer to register with them along with the swimmer's coach. A certain sum of money is paid to the CSA and this payment provides the aspirant with tide and weather reports, supervision of the swim and training spots, official observers, plus lifeguards, plus their own official boats, plus referee who issues the final finishing certificate.

  21. When we submitted our swim plan as outlined, they accepted it 100% and after the swim made me a lifetime member (the only one in Canada), and the CSA representative in Canada. They endorsed our plan and after seeing it working across the Channel made it theirs also - thus we had the best of two plans.

  22. I submit, the safety of the swim is the main thing - an absolute must. Fatalities should not happen; thus swimmer, coach, and parents should have to apply to a board (a governing body like the Ontario Provincial Police, O.P.P ; Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP; Coastguards; local or otherwise Councils) for a permit to make the swim, and must submit their swim plan plus their list of equipment as outlined above. Would like of course to have Queen's Park (the Ontario Legislature) as the governing party. If details are found wanting, then no permit should be issued. I would name Queen's Park as the main authority.

  23. I have dealt with U.S.A., Canadian, French, and English coastguards and authorities all over the world, and this Ryder Plan was cited as the best and the safest for all.

  24. A neutral swim expert, one with marathon experience (great experience), should be consulted before a permit is issued. He/she would be the main authority on any board or as a consultant to the board, and should have the power to O.K. a swim or not.

  25. This information is based on a desire to provide safety at all times and to prevent fatalities. It also seeks to protect against over-enthusiasm in those trying the swim purely for the purpose of publicity. The coaching boat should be for the observer, lifeguards, coach, coach's swimmers, or pacers.

  26. We have used the plan for 45 years with no accidents. As mentioned, safety is our main concern. We do not want any fatalities as we had with Mr MacNeil.

  27. Small boats should be kept away from the swimmer at all times. Especially approaching the end of the swim when they can do great damage.

  28. As mentioned, an expert swim authority should be one of the main members on any board or governing body. Also now is the time for action to set this up.

  29. Alternative plan: My favourite plan is to hold a swim in front of the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto in full view of all the people and have a sufficient money prize put up and force all these across-the-lake swimmers to enter it. It would be known as The Lake Ontario Swim. Thus you would have one project, very easy to protect, no night swimming, and every one could see it.

  30. We submit this voluntarily in hopes it will save someone's life. We would like to get credit through the press or otherwise for submitting the Gus Ryder Swim Plan which is not based on a single swim but on dozens all over the world. 

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