Recent fatalities during the swim portion of other Midwest triathlons has attracted media interest and inquiries from participants. In response, the organizers of the Door County Triathlon (DCT) are providing the following information. This post details what precautions the organizers take to keep you safe and what you, the participants, can do to maximize your safety during the swim portion of the race.

The organizers of the DCT have always gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of its participants, particularly during the swim. These measures include:

  • WELL-MARKED SWIM COURSE – In addition to putting out turn buoys, the DCT anchors large orange buoys every 50 yards along the Sprint (10 buoys) and Half Iron (40 buoys) swim courses. The buoys are numbered for the benefit of the participants and the Lifeguard Director who is able to assign lifeguards to monitoring specific sections of the swim route.


  • AMPLE LIFEGUARD STAFFING – USA Triathlon, which sanctions the DCT, requires 1 lifeguard for every 35 swimmers in the water for ocean/Great Lakes swims. Based on our participation totals (maximum of 400 swimmers in the water at any time) and the possibility of wavy conditions, the DCT is required to staff a minimum of 12 lifeguards each day. In reality, the DCT staffs over twice this amount with 25-30 lifeguards on duty each day. We work closely with the local YMCA to provide experienced lifeguards who receive open water swim safety training at Murphy Park prior to the race each year.


  • MARINE SUPPORT – DCT provides numerous types of watercraft to ensure participant safety, including:
    • Sit-on-Top Kayaks – These provide lifeguards an elevated view to better monitor your safety and progress.
    • Jetski’s – These are piloted by police and fire department personnel with lifeguards on the back to respond as quickly as possible.
    • Pontoon Boats – These are positioned just outside of the turns to afford better monitoring of the participants and serve as “exit platforms” for those who choose to exit the swim early.
    • Extractor Sleds – These devices are fixed to the back of the jetski’s and facilitate the rapid transport of panicked or unconscious swimmers back to shore, minimizing the response time for our lifeguards and medical staff.
    • Search and Rescue Dive Teams – We have experienced search and rescue divers on standby on the pontoon boats every year to respond quickly if a swimmer drops below the surface.


  • BRIGHT SWIM CAPS – The logo’d swim caps we give out each year aren’t just swag. They are high-visibility equipment that helps us monitor your safety, which is why you are required to wear them.


Here are things we recommend you do to ensure your own safety:

  • TRAIN IN A LARGE OPEN BODY OF WATER – Swimming in open water is very different than swimming in the lap lane of a pool. Surface conditions, current, and visibility present additional challenges. In a large open body of water like an ocean or the Great Lakes, the volatility in these factors can be even more pronounced. Horseshoe Bay by Murphy Park, where the DCT swim takes place, is in the bay of Green Bay, part of Lake Michigan. There can be wavy conditions and water temperatures can swing 15 degrees overnight. We strongly advise our athletes to pursue opportunities to train in Lake Michigan, the bay of Green Bay, or other large open bodies of water prior to race day. There is an upcoming open water training opportunity at Murphy Park on June 29th. CLICK HERE for details.


  • WEAR A WETSUIT – As already stated, the surface conditions and water temperatures in Horseshoe Bay can be unpredictable. A wetsuit provides additional warmth and buoyancy to swimmers. If you don’t already own a wetsuit, we encourage you to borrow one from a friend or rent one. Our official wetsuit rental partner is


  • RELAX IN THE WATER – Prior to the start of the race, enter the water so you can acclimate and warm up the water in your wetsuit before your wave begins. If you are nervous at the start of the swim, hang out towards the back of your wave and use a breaststroke or dog paddle until you are comfortable putting your face in the water. Focus on relaxing your breathing and take notice of the safety infrastructure around you. If you are new to the sport, have a goal of finishing each discipline and don’t concern yourself with achieving a specific finish time.


  • SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING – If you see another athlete who is struggling or non-responsive, take action. Wave your arms (click here for specific arm signals) and holler to get the attention of the nearest lifeguard before you continue. As the saying goes, “We’re all in this together.”


Your safety is our highest priority. We will do everything in our power to make your triathlon experience in Door County a safe and enjoyable one. If you have any questions or concerns, just ask.

Sean Ryan, Race Director