VANCOUVER -- The first swimmers of the year dove into Vancouver’s three largest outdoor pools Monday morning, nearly two months later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outdoor pools at Kitsilano, Second Beach, and New Brighton would usually re-open in mid-May, but health concerns over the virus meant a major delay for swimmers this year as the Vancouver Park Board formulated a health and safety plan that would allow people to safely return to the water.

All swimmers are being urged to reserve a spot online, as there is a limit on occupancy and drop-in spaces. Demand over the weekend was so great, at one point it crashed the reservation system.

Lane swimmers are being limited to 45-minute sessions during set times, while public swimmers are limited to 90 minutes.

The pools will undergo cleaning several times a day.

Those swimming lengths are being asked to stay five metres apart from others when they are in the water.

At Kitsilano Pool Monday morning, lifeguards could be heard over megaphones reminding some swimmers to keep their distance.

Despite the online ticketing issue over the weekend, things appeared to go smoothly Monday, with swimmers mostly staying apart in the water and on the pool deck.

For many regulars, getting back in the water at their favourite pool came as a relief.

“They couldn’t have done a better job, it was fantastic,” said Christine Ingemorsen, who has been swimming at Kits Pool for about 30 years. “I think everyone is being respectful about physical distancing and i didn’t feel there were any personal health issues. I think everyone was so happy to be back in the pool.”

Verena Foxx stopped by the pool early Monday ahead of her reserved time to see how the new measures were working as she is in a vulnerable age category for COVID-19.

“I think their guidelines are good and i notice people are staying apart,” Foxx said. “I think this is a safe way to get the exercise I like to get.”

Park Board Commissioner Tricia Barker feels the re-opening has been handled carefully.

“We want everyone to know it is going to be safe when they’re here. That’s always been one of park board’s biggest concerns as we open things up — to make sure people are confident we are looking after their well-being.”

Online sales for the next day’s swimming sessions start at 9:30 a.m.

Other measures include one-way restrictions around the pool deck. Pool equipment, like kick boards, are not being provided — though swimmers can bring their own.

Changerooms and lockers are not available, but spaces have been marked off for people to leave their belongings or to relax in the sun if they are taking part in a public swim.

Maple Grove Pool in Kerrisdale is expected to open next Monday.

If there are no issues, the outdoor swimming season is expected to wrap up in early September.