Open water swimming
Open water swimming takes place in outdoor bodies of water such as open ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

s, bay
A bay is an area of water mostly surrounded by land. Bays generally have calmer waters than the surrounding sea, due to the surrounding land blocking some waves and often reducing winds. Bays also exist as an inlet in a lake or pond. A large bay may be called a gulf, a sea, a sound, or a bight...

s, lake
A lake is a body of relatively still fresh or salt water of considerable size, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land. Lakes are inland and not part of the ocean and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are larger and deeper than ponds. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams,...

s, river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

s, canal
Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:#Waterways: navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats shipping goods and conveying people, further subdivided into two kinds:...

s, and reservoir
A reservoir , artificial lake or dam is used to store water.Reservoirs may be created in river valleys by the construction of a dam or may be built by excavation in the ground or by conventional construction techniques such as brickwork or cast concrete.The term reservoir may also be used to...


The beginning of the modern age of open water swimming is sometimes taken to be May 3, 1810, when Lord Byron swam several miles to cross the Hellespont
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

 (now known as the Dardanelles) from Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 to Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...


In the first edition of the modern Olympic Games
Olympic Games
The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition where more than 200 nations participate...

 in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 in 1896, the swimming competition was held in open water. In 2000, the Olympic Games first included a triathlon
A triathlon is a multi-sport event involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance events. While many variations of the sport exist, triathlon, in its most popular form, involves swimming, cycling, and running in immediate succession over various distances...

 with a 1500 m swim leg, and in 2008, a 10 km open water swim. 5, 10, and 25 km open water races are included in the General Fina World Championships.

World marathon swimming records can be set by being the first to swim a specific distance in a specific course in a specific body of water or the fastest or the oldest or the most prolific (i.e., the most number of times in a specific location). World records are authenticated by independent observers and are defined by distance, gender, age, location and time. Distance is separated into world marathon swimming records (at least 10 km) or world open water swimming records (under 10 km).

The Half Century Club is a list of open water swimmers over the age of 50 years who have successfully swum across major channels around the world. The Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming includes three famous marathon swims around the world: (1) 21 miles across the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 between England and France, (2) 21 miles across the Catalina Channel in Southern California, USA, and (3) 28.5 miles around the Manhattan Island in New York, USA. Membership in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming requires authentification of each of these three swim

The Ocean’s Seven are open water swimming's equivalent of the Seven Summits
Seven Summits
The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is regarded as a mountaineering challenge, first postulated as such and achieved on April 30, 1985 by Richard Bass .-Definition:...

. The Ocean’s Seven include (1) Irish Channel between Ireland and Scotland, (2) Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, (3) Molokai Channel between Oahu and Molokai Islands in Hawaii, (4) English Channel between England and France, (5) Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and Southern California, (6) Tsugaru Channel between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan, and (7) Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa. No one has yet completed the Ocean’s Seven, but many swimmers are currently trying.

The activity has grown in popularity in recent years with the publication of bestselling books on "wild swimming" by authors such as Kate Rew
Kate Rew
Kate Rew is a journalist and author who founded the Outdoor Swimming Society. Her bestselling book, "Wild Swim", helped further the recent growth in popularity of wild swimming.-Early life:...

 and Daniel Start.

Equipment used in competitions

The equipment allowed in a race depends on the sanctioning body and/or the race organizers. For example, races may have divisions for wetsuits and/or relays; may require escort boats / kayak
A kayak is a small, relatively narrow, human-powered boat primarily designed to be manually propelled by means of a double blade paddle.The traditional kayak has a covered deck and one or more cockpits, each seating one paddler...

ers / paddleboards; and may require specifically colored swim caps. The purists tend to keep it simple, using a basic swimsuit, goggles, and swim cap. Many historical records are based on that attire. Elite marathon swimmers often refer to this as "English Channel" rules, and rules for swimming the channel include using only this basic attire. Most serious open-water swimmers practice without a wetsuit, as most elite cold water or marathon swims (such as the English Channel, Catalina, or Manhattan Island Marathon Swim) do not recognize wetsuit swims.

On the other hand, competitive rule 4.4 of USA Triathlon, states that "each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 °F (25.6 °C)." The ITU rule is that wetsuits are allowed for elite races at below 23 °C (73.4 °F) if 3000 metres (9,842.5 ft) or more, and below 21 °C (69.8 °F) if shorter. Wetsuits are mandatory below 16 °C (60.8 °F) if 3000 metres (9,842.5 ft) or more.

Wetsuits have evolved significantly in the past decade, as the growing popularity of triathlons has created demand for high-end triathlon wetsuits. These wetsuits can be used for general training as well as open water swims competitions. Newer wetsuits have improved materials and varied "panelling" thickness, allowing for more stretch and flexibility in areas crucial for range of motion.

Racing techniques


Though most open water races do not require a specific stroke, most competitors employ the crawl stroke also known as freestyle
Freestyle swimming
Freestyle is an unregulated swimming style used in swimming competitions according to the rules of FINA. The front crawl stroke is almost universally used during a freestyle race, as this style is generally the fastest...

. The efficiency of this stroke was demonstrated by Gertrude Ederle, who, as the first woman to swim the English Channel, employed it to demolish the existing world record by more than 2 hours.


When covering large distances, swimmers may head off course due to current, waves, wind, and poor visibility. Typically, buoys are stationed periodically across a large expanse provide guidance. However, buoys are often invisible due to interference from choppy water and reduced visibility through goggles. Swimmers are encouraged to 'triangulate' by looking for two aligned, easily visible objects on land that are directly behind the destination (such as the end of a pier as it lines up with a hilltop), and to make sure they continue to appear aligned during the race.


Drafting is the technique of following another swimmer so closely that water resistance is reduced. When swimming closely alongside or behind a swimmer in the lead swimmer's wake, resistance is reduced and the amount of effort to swim at the same speed is correspondingly reduced. In calmer conditions, or when facing surface chop, swimmers can also significantly benefit from swimming immediately behind or closely alongside a swimmer of comparable or faster speed. Not all race organizer permit drafting, and swimmers can run the risk of disqualification if they are caught.

Beach starting/exiting

In shallow water, it is quicker to high-step into the water and at hip depth, begin dolphining through the water. Before the race, check the nature of the bottom to determine if it is rippled, which can cause an ankle sprain if you high-step across an uneven surface. Dolphining is to dive forward hands first into the water and angle down to the bottom, press against the sand to begin coming up, and dive up and over the water again. In heavy surf conditions, dive deep and grab sand to get under a crashing wave. Upon entry and when circling buoys, swimmers will often be in a very crowded environment and may be jostled as swimmers climb over one another to get to open space and create an advantage. On the exit, a significant advantage can be gained from body surfing as far up the beach as possible, and then high-stepping across the shallows.

Wetsuit usage

Various types of wetsuits of varying thicknesses are used in open water swimming. Some employ high-tech materials and workmanship, others are of basic materials found in surfing and diving wetsuits. Some designs cover the torso, arms and legs, while other designs leave the arms and shoulders exposed.

When a person floats motionless in the water, their legs tend to sink. When a person swims freestyle, the legs rise toward surface because water passing underneath the body pushes the legs up, similar to how the wind can lift a kite into the air. In addition, a proper kicking technique will bring the legs all the way to the surface, creating a more streamlined profile for the arms to pull through the water. Both of these mechanisms of becoming horizontal require a small amount of energy from the swimmer. When a person wearing a thick wetsuit floats motionless in the water, their legs tend to float on the surface. Theoretically, this obviates the small energy expenditure mentioned above, although an additional small amount of energy is required to continually flex the wetsuit during swimming motions.

On a given swim, not all swimmers benefit in terms of speed or endurance from wetsuits. Whether a given swimmer will benefit in these ways depends on other factors as well, such as water temperature. When the water temperature is too warm, swimmers can overheat in a wetsuit.


  • Cold water swimming
  • Ice swimming
  • Long distance swimming
  • Marathon swimming
    Marathon swimming
    Marathon swimming, or ultra-long-distance swimming, is a class of open water swimming. Unlike the use of the term for foot-races where the distance is well-defined, the distance of a marathon swim varies from event to event. Tides, surface currents and wind-chop are major determinants of...

  • Wild swimming
  • Winter swimming
    Winter swimming
    Winter swimming is the activity of swimming during the winter season, typically in outdoor locations or in unheated pools or lidos. Many winter swimmers swim with standard swimming costumes rather than with wetsuits or other thermal protection. The activity may or may not involve freezing water,...


  • Pier to Pub
    Pier to Pub
    The Lorne Pier to Pub is an annual, 1.2-km open water swimming race held in January at Lorne, a town located on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia...

     (Lorne, Victoria, Australia)
  • Cole Classic
    Cole Classic
    The Cole Classic is an open-water swimming event, held annually at Manly in Sydney, Australia. Organisers publicise it as one of Australia's longest running ocean swims; historically it was viewed as one of the most prestigious open-water swims in Sydney...

     (Australia, the word's largest ocean swim)
  • Rottnest Channel Swim
    Rottnest Channel Swim
    The Rottnest Channel Swim is an annual open water swimming event from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia, near Perth. It is open to solo swimmers and teams of two or four. It is one of the largest open water swimming events in the world. The distance is...

  • Cadiz Freedom Swim
    Cadiz Freedom Swim
    The Cadiz Freedom Swim is an extreme open water swimming race from Robben Island to Big Bay, Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa.It takes place annually close to Freedom Day .The Cadiz Freedom...

     (South Africa)
  • Round the Castle Swim in the canals of downtown Copenhagen, (Denmark)
  • Vansbrosimningen
    Vansbrosimningen is an annual open water swimming competition held in Vansbro, Dalarna, Sweden since 1950. The distance is 3,000 m, first 2,000 m in Vanån then 1,000 m in Västerdal River...

     (Sweden, 6700 participants)
  • Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim (Australia)
  • Swim Miami
    Swim Miami
    Swim Miami is an open-water swimming event held annually in south Florida. This year’s event will take place on April 9th, 2011, on Watson Island. Today the event is owned and operated by the H2O’s Foundation, a foundation dedicated to eradicating drowning in south Florida. The swim also helps to...

     (Miami, Florida)
  • La Jolla Rough Water Swim (California)
  • EARL of PEARL (Austria)
  • Big Shoulders (Chicago, Illinois)
  • NYC Marathon Swim (NYC, New York)

The International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee
The International Olympic Committee is an international corporation based in Lausanne, Switzerland, created by Pierre de Coubertin on 23 June 1894 with Demetrios Vikelas as its first president...

 included a 10K open water race as a medal event to the 2008 Olympics, subsequently held in the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park
Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park
The Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park is the new, purpose-built venue for the rowing, canoeing and 10 km open-water swimming events in the 2008 Summer Olympics. It is located in Mapo Village in the Shunyi District in Beijing....


See also

  • Cole Classic
    Cole Classic
    The Cole Classic is an open-water swimming event, held annually at Manly in Sydney, Australia. Organisers publicise it as one of Australia's longest running ocean swims; historically it was viewed as one of the most prestigious open-water swims in Sydney...

  • Global Open Water Swimming Conference
    Global Open Water Swimming Conference
    Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events...

  • Triathlon
    A triathlon is a multi-sport event involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance events. While many variations of the sport exist, triathlon, in its most popular form, involves swimming, cycling, and running in immediate succession over various distances...

  • Open Water Swimmers of the Year
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