How I passed my Battle Swim Test…
If you’re not confident in the water and you’re going to join any branch of the military, joining an amphibious unit probably isn’t the wisest idea. You might be better suited to branches that stay on terrafirma or even jumping out of planes. But, if you’re looking to join the Royal Marines, In my opinion “wisdom” isn’t necessary: muscles, strength of mind, and water confidence are essential however.
This is how I ended up driving hours to a swimming pool in Leeds to train with 32 lbs of kit in breaststroke position with Claire as my coach.
I was never a confident swimmer growing up. At 7 years old I was embarrassed to be in the shallow end with other school children years younger than me. At 10 when my well-intended Mother pushed me into a Tiger Sharks club, the shame I felt at my swimming performance led me to build-up an even bigger resentment to the chlorinated waters of my local leisure centre. After a couple of confidence knocking episodes in the water as an adult. If asked, I’d pretty much choose any military or physical test over swimming.
The Annual Battle Swim Test is something that most service personnel will be familiar with, you’ll need to complete it if you’re in the Army, if you’re in the RAF and fly in planes over water, and especially if you want to join the Royal Navy, which is the home of the UK’s most elite amphibious force, the Royal Marines.
What does the test consist of?
I can tell you, precisely the requirements because I read them once, twice, ten times over. I then visualized the test as much, or maybe more, and trained for it with Claire, last time I attempted the test, I failed and this wasn’t an option this time.
- First, you jump into a pool from a 3 metre high dive board in Military “rig” or uniform.
- You are carrying Military “webbing” (for the uninitiated, think of it like a waist-coat with lots of pockets for keeping ammo and grenades and survival kit in) and inside this webbing is another 15-18lbs of weight.
- Also carrying a (rubber, practice) rifle slung over your right-hand shoulder which weighs 9 lbs, and wants to drag you to the bottom of the pool. In total, with water seeping into your kit, you’re carrying 30lbs.
- Next, a 30 metre swim before you reach the deep end of the pool.
- Next you’ll need to tread water, pass your rifle to a person on the side of the pool.
- Finally complete the trickiest part of the whole thing. You now need to take your 15+ lb webbing off (which is more like 20lbs after the water has filled up every pocket) and raise it above your head to clear the water for your colleague to grab.
- Oh and touch the sides of the pool at any time and it’s an immediate fail. Back to the beginning my friend.
Swimming with weight is like running with weight, completely unnatural to me!
If you think you could crack it at your local pool, maybe you can, lots of people do every year. Make sure you are under the safe supervision of a lifeguard, swim coach or trusted friend and start by trying to tread water one-handed and lift something that’s 15 lb or 20 lbs over your head. Just don’t drown in the process and blame this blog post 🙂
The thing is, the BST isn’t that hard. People carry it out and complete it all the time. There are no medals for passing it, not even one of those Tony the tiger sew on swim badges we had when I was a kid, to my great sadness. It’s certainly isn’t the hardest test you’ll do in the military and certainly not in your career. For all the troops I’ve seen, only a few, maybe 5-10% of recruits in a troop struggle with it, most people will have bigger issues with running, marching with 70/90/100lbs on their back.
But fail it, and you’re also not progressing any further either… No fast-roping out of helicopters, no smoke grenading a room and bursting into it with half a dozen of your best mates to clear it of enemies. In other words that your life goal is coming to a hard STOP. The point is for someone who isn’t a confident swimmer, like me, the B.S.T is a big deal. I’ve had friends, who struggled to do a 30-metre rope climb. My best mate who was an Olympic gold medal holding athlete and couldn’t survive in the cold and wet. Other lads who couldn’t march with 80lbs of kit without creaming in after 500 meters.
Everybody has their own “thing” to work on and breakthrough.
Swimming was and still is my mine. I’m under no illusions my water confidence and swimming still needs work, I won’t be challenging Micheal Phelps any time soon. Cracking the BST was one big milestone in my journey to becoming water confident and a strong swimmer and it was all thanks to Claire who was brave enough to take a random phone call from this stranger on a Tuesday morning trying to explain why he wanted some help to learn to swim with a rifle. When most swim coaches I called either couldn’t be bothered or were uninterested to really understand.
I could tell Claire’s enthusiasm from the beginning. She was excited to try and figure out this brand new problem, come up with strategies to help, work through my weaknesses, and like a good marine, drill, drill, drill.
I hope this has given you a little insight into a very different type of swimming and to encourage you to pursue your swimming goals.
Working with Claire was one of the best decisions I made this year and I’ve no doubt in years to come will look back at as a pivotal point in my life.
Whether you want to earn your Green Beret or you want to perfect your breaststroke. I recommend you get a Coach and having tried half a dozen others, I can only recommend Claire.