A marathon swim checklist

In my experience, the day before a marathon swim is almost invariably a hassle. Just when you most need to be resting, you find yourself running around an unfamiliar town in search of various items you forgot to pack. From Tampa in April, to MIMS in June, to Catalina last month, I’ve gradually streamlined the process – but there always seem to be last-minute tasks. And even the most experienced marathon swimmers will tell you it’s almost impossible to pull it all together without the help of a friend or significant other.

Most people resort to writing a checklist at some point. The list will vary slightly between swims – and swimmers – but there are common themes. My list reflects hard-earned experience over three 20+ mile swims in a single season. For those tackling their first marathon swim, this might speed the learning curve a bit.

A note on formatting: Italicized items I consider “optional.” [Bracketed] items are products that I personally use.



  • high-calorie liquid feed [Maxim + apple juice or Perpetuem]
  • feed bottles
    • characteristics of good feed bottles: built-in loop (for securing to kayak), medium-sized spout (not too small, not too large), easy-flip top
  • thermos of hot water for warm feeds (unless boat has microwave)
  • bottled water
  • funnel (for pouring drink powder)
  • measuring cup (for mixing feeds)
  • solid food / snacks (very personal, but might include bananas, gel packs, watery oatmeal, Chicken McNuggets, etc.)

Discomfort Maintenance

  • lube [channel grease = 50% lanolin, 50% vaseline]
  • latex gloves (to apply lube)
  • mouthwash (for saltwater swims)
  • sunscreen [preferably long-duration waterproof, such as SolRX]
  • anti-inflammatories (e.g., ibuprofen)
  • anti-motion sickness (e.g., bonineginger products, scopolamine patch)
  • warm clothes (e.g., parka, wool socks, sleeping bag)
  • earplugs

Misc. Gear

  • rope & carabiners (for securing feed bottles)
  • zip ties
  • glow sticks (if swimming at night)
  • safety pins (for attaching glow sticks)
  • stopwatch
  • log sheets
  • dry-erase board + markers

Media & Communication

  • GPS tracker + batteries [SPOT Tracker, or if continuous cellular signal available, Instamapper smart-phone app]
  • mobile phone + charger (preferably smart phone w/ Twitter & Facebook apps installed)
  • camera or video-camera [Kodak PlaySport]
  • walkie-talkie + extra batteries (for communication between boat & kayak)

Finally, there’s the issue of whether and how to compensate “volunteer” crew and paddlers. It’s sort of an awkward topic, but one you should give some thought to before you arrive in town for the swim. Here’s my policy, for what it’s worth:

  • For non-family crew members, I take care of expenses incurred “on the ground” – i.e., everything but air travel.
  • For volunteer paddlers, I offer a cash tip over & above the expenses. For compensated paddlers, I offer a small gift (e.g., bottle of wine).

Reimbursing transportation expenses is a nice thing to do (gas prices being as they are), but just remember that regardless of reimbursement, your crew are still doing you a huge favor. Especially for an overnight swim like Catalina. The best way to return this favor is to return it in kind. For crew members who are also swimmers, offer to crew for them on a future swim.

12 thoughts on “A marathon swim checklist”

    1. i know what you mean – i went through a phase when i used B70 Hydra goggles for short-distance races (fear of getting kicked in the face). hasn’t been a problem with swedes, though.

  1. Checkbook for the Butt Scratcher! (I bet I forget)
    I also have these nifty battery extenders for my iPhone so I can take heaps of video.
    I’m getting my will up to date and penning some last words prior to Catalina.
    Also hair and nails need to be done

  2. Nice concise list Evan. I’ll email you the famous Freda Streeter EC list if you want it but you covered it all.

    For EC attempts in Ireland/Sandycove, the swimmer carries all the costs; flights, accommodation, hire car, food, since many of us will end up crewing more than once.

    1. There’s a reasonably well known swimmer here in the US whose day job is flying commercial airliners. So he gets to fly for free just about anywhere. Needless to say, he’s a popular crew member.

    1. What ironic (or just sad) is that the entire justification for this new breed of “professional kayaker” (until recently it was strictly a volunteer thing) is that you’re paying for reliability. What a joke.

  3. I love this post. For some reason, I just want to keep re-reading that simple, concrete, nuts-and-bolts list of of the big and small things it takes to do a swim like that.

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