Swimming in Zurich is a popular, year-round activity, attracting a variety of types of swimmers at various spots around the lake. From packs of training Ironmen, to the solitary winter dipper, there’s plenty of water for everyone. But separating swimmers from boats over summer is an increasing issue on the lake, as it is across Europe.
It’s the first place I’ve lived where I’ve managed to stay out of the pool year round. Being a large body of water, the lake attracts as many boats as it does swimmers, and separating the two is essential to safety.
The swimmer/boat clash is seasonal to an extent. During the marginal seasons (Spring/Autumn) there are fewer people around and fewer boats in the water so swimming feels safer and more exclusive. But come summer time, we have frequent interactions with day-trippers in pedalos, giant retro paddle steamers and ferries, and the low, slightly menacing river cruisers. Not to mention the numerous rowing boats. There is also a summer influx of seasonal swimmers so entry and exit can be busy at popular spots.
Separating swimmers from boats over summer became an increasing issue, so in 2009 the lake police implemented a swimming safety campaign to make swimmers aware of the dangers in the water and thus avoid accidents.
The campaign started with print and billboard ads, but also used free yellow swim caps with the slogan ‘safety suits you’, usually available on the counter at the Badi entrances, and messages written on buoys at the edges of the badi’s swimming areas. Not only do the buoys make swimmers think, they also denote the limit of the ‘monitored swimming’ area (where boats, even including SUPs, are not allowed).
Whether in a badi (an open-air, often lake or riverside swimming area) or swimming down the lake, I swim past these buoys all the time. Initially, pre-GPS, I used the buoys as distance markers and some swimmers, especially in winter, will do ‘laps’ to or from or around. Some people swim out to them and just hang on to them and chat to their friends. You know your children are safe (from objects) within those limits. They’re also a visual cue as to where to swim, when on a longer swim, and where to head back to.
“If I were a ship, it would be too late. So watch out!”
“I can not help you: So don’t swim alone”
“If your bathing cap is bright like me, then everything is ok.”
“You saw me. But do they see you too?”
“Don’t swim without your head”
“Can you make it back?”
The campaign would have appeared to be a success – it is in it’s 9th year now, and the hats are still in use. Not everyone wears the caps (some of my Swiss friends think the caps in particular are a bit uncool and they’d sooner display their latest Ironman accomplishment) but, for me, it’s a nice balance between safe and quirky!