Aquaspotter Review: Swimming Safety in Open Water

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Aug 15, 2011

Aquaspotter Review: Swimming Safety in Open Water

Swimator Blog August 15, 2011 Final rating: 5/5

Roaring speed boats, slowly churning fishing barges, crazy youngster on jetskis, tourists in canoes and kayaks, all of these have one thing in common and it is called "danger to swimmers".When you do not have the luxury of swimming in open water without any boat traffic, you need to be extra careful in order to stay out of harms' way. Wearing a brightly colored swimming cap helps and is better than nothing, but your head gets easily lost under the water (assuming you have a good horizontal swimming position) or behind a wave. Swimming in open water can be safe once again though. I just got my hands on a brand new product called the "Aquaspotter made by Goat Gear" which is attempting to solve the swimmer safety problem.

Aquaspotter with a Goat Gear sticker

What is the Aquaspotter and what does it do for you?

Swimmer's safety has become a very hot topic in the swimming community as more and more swimmers leave the boundaries of their local swimming pool and venture out to open water. There are no lanes, no walls and usually not even people to worry about in the open water which makes the swimming experience very attractive, however, as I pointed out above, some waters are quite heavily trafficked by miscellaneous surface watercraft which bring a whole new challenge and dimension to the open water experience. The Aquaspotter was built for swimmers, triathletes and snorkelers to keep the focus on swimming and not on how dangerous it could be.

The Aquaspotter strives to protect the swimmer or triathlete by making him or her more visible. It allows anybody to see you from far away as you stroke uninterrupted through the open waters by waving a brightly colored orange flag extending from your back. Intrigued? Yes? You should be.

Specifications of the Aquaspotter

The Aquaspotter is a good old fanny pack (bum or belt pack in the UK) which was so popular in the 80-90's era and is still widely used in many Eastern European countries. However, the Aquaspotter is no ordinary 1990s fanny pack: it is a modern 21st century pimped up product. It is built from a durable neoprene material which floats at the surface, so you don't need to worry about losing it if it comes unattached by chance. It attaches to your body with a regular strong plastic snap buckle and has adjustable straps for a wide variety of body shapes. On the top of the pack, there is a small plastic holder which serves as the mounting piece for the brightly colored orange flag. The flag itself has a very light pole and a stiffer orange cloth to keep it from drooping when it gets wet. This is not all, however. What would a fanny pack be without a proper pocket? The Aquaspotter pocket has a protected zipper so sand and other debris cannot get in. In the pocket you will find a stretchy rubber hook which attaches to a plastic waterproof bag. The waterproof bag employs 3 consecutive ziplock mechanisms and also the fold over technique, so you can be sure the water will stay out of your precious cargo. Finally, as a bonus, there is a small holder for the flag pole when you are out of the water so you can actually wear the entire Aquaspotter set as a fanny pack even on dryland during your bike or cross training run exercise.

Waterproof bag and Aquaspotter

How do you use the Aquaspotter?

I've tested Goat Gear's Aquaspotter in one of our local Finnish lakes and have to say that it performed very well. I was quite impressed with the lightness of the flag and the flag pole. My first thought when I saw the Aquaspotter was that, the flag will get in the way and the drag will be just too much, but I was totally proved wrong. Yeah sure, you probably would not want to take the Aquaspotter to an open water competition if you are after your best time but, if you are after finishing the race, going for a practice swim, or are worried about any potential boat traffic dangers, this is a perfect solution. The Aquaspotter pack withstands the test of all four swimming strokes, so you can take a break once in a while from freestyle without compromising your water safety and visibility. If you turn on your back, just flip the Aquaspotter on your belly and voila, you are waiving a different (less perverted) flag pole around :).

The waterproof bag inside the Aquaspotter pack is perfect for storing your smartphone, your keys or a wallet. If you have some items you don't mind getting wet that you'd also like to bring along, just stick them into the pack along with the waterproof bag. I, for example, used it for some energy gels and my ring.

Aquaspotter improves your swimming technique!

But wait, there is more. There are a few hidden benefits of the Aquaspotter. If you worry about distorting your swimming technique while using this water safety equipment, stop right there. The Aquaspotter also serves as a swimming technique improvement tool. If you are a frequent reader of the Swimator Blog, you have experienced my obsession with hip rotation. Hip rotation is one of the essential ingredients for a proper and efficient freestyle stroke. Since with the Aquaspotter you have the fanny pack strapped around your waist and are also waiving a flag on your back, you will actually feel your hips move more, thus causing you to focus on rotating your hips from side to side. So, with the Aquaspotter, you can forget about flat stomach swimming and start being more efficient on your sides.

Earlier I also mentioned you can swim on your back with the Aquaspotter. The technique help provided by the Aquaspotter during backstroke is from a bit of a different bag. Remember, I talked about having a strong core to keep your body straight in the water. Your core muscles are not only used to keep you from snaking side to side, but also for keeping you in a good position when it comes to up and down movement. In backstroke many swimmers have a so called sinking butt, which causes them to plow through the water with a lot of drag and inefficiency. With the Aquaspotter, you can work on pushing your hips up to the surface which in turn will push the flag further out of the water. At the same time, you can push your upper back and head deeper into the water, so you end up in a nice straight horizontal position right below the surface of the water.

Bonus: Extra benefit

If you suffer from lower back ache (who does not in today's sedentary world), getting into cold water to swim might not be the best cure but, since you love swimming so much :), it is hard to resist. The good news is that, with the Aquaspotter, you can protect your lower back from the cold. Since the pack is made out of neoprene material, it serves as a very mild insulation on your lower back, thus keeping your muscles a bit warmer which in turn helps with preventing lower back injury.

Also, many of us go swimming in groups, whether it is for practice or for fun during exciting swim trekking holidays. The swimming groups are usually composed of swimmers with different strengths and swimming abilities, so it is very easy for the group to become spread all over the area. Everyone had better have very good spotting and orienteering skills to find their way to the goal destination. However, what if every group leader or a few of the group members were to wear the Aquaspotter flag on their backs? Everyone would see which direction to swim in and where the leader is and the problem is solved.


Summary: Pros and Cons

After swimming with the Aquaspotter for a few kilometers it became apparent that it does its job really well. The fact that you are reading this review already proves that I survived all the boat attacks that the open water threw at me:). It is actually quite a simple concept to begin with, however, it is apparent a lot of intuitive thought and testing went into the design as it does exactly what it is built for and it does it well without much hindrance to swimming performance. Since the flag and the flag pole are so light, they do not cause too much noticeable resistance. The waterproof bag is very useful and, as a bonus, you can use the Aquaspotter pack outside of the water on your trip to and from your favorite open water spot. Finally, as a very nice marketing touch from the Goat Gear guys, you'll also receive a very cool Goat Gear sticker along with the Aquaspotter.

Finally, as an afterthought, if you are after a fool proof method of swimming safely in open water, you will never be satisfied and had better stay confined to your shower. However, if you just want to be safer and have a convenient way of taking some of your belongings along with you, the combination of the Goat Gear's Aquaspotter and the ISHOF SafeSwimmer Float might just be the answer to your prayers.

Pros:
  • good light material
  • waterproof bag
  • great cost only $39.95
  • can be used on dryland as well
Cons:
  • if placed on the wrong place of the back, it lifts up a little when you swim
  • the belt is not suitable for obese individuals - max ~100cm around the waist
Final rating: 5/5
  • usability/effectiveness - 5/5
  • material - 5/5
  • look and feel - 5/5
  • price/value - 5/5

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Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

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