Take the marathon swimming rules survey

If these discussion threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum are any indication, marathon swimmers love to argue about rules. This is not surprising; rules define the boundary conditions of our sport, what is and is not a “marathon swim.” The beauty of marathon swimming derives, at least in part, from its purity and asceticism — its prohibitions against things that would make it easier.

Take the survey HERE

Debates and hand-wringing occasionally arise due to a few “local variations” on marathon swimming rules:

  • Neoprene caps are allowed by the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation, out of respect for Stewart Evans and Ted Erikson, who both wore neo caps on their pioneering Farallon swims.
  • In NYC Swim events, swimmers are allowed to exit the water in the event of lightning, and return to the water afterward without disqualification.
  • In Cook Strait swims, swimmers are allowed to exit the water for ten minutes in the event of a shark encounter.
  • Increased-coverage swimsuits (e.g., rash guards and stinger suits) are allowed in Rottnest Channel swims.

Concern trolls sometimes use these variations in an attempt to undermine marathon swimming, or to promote an “anything goes” policy. There may not be any universal set of marathon swimming rules (and I don’t think it makes sense to have one), but there is absolutely a universal spirit, going back to Captain Webb: to swim without artificial assistance.

Technology being what it is, new apparel and devices are always being developed, which are intended to make the act of swimming easier, but which do not specifically violate the rules.

How should we deal with these developments? How to decide whether an item violates the “spirit,” or not?

With these questions in mind, the SBCSA (specifically, Scott Zornig and I) present a community opinion survey on rules in marathon swimming:


(The survey benefited from feedback from Donal Buckley and Rob Dumouchel — thanks guys.)

The spirit of marathon swimming is defined by the “spirit” (and opinions) of marathon swimmers. But to my knowledge, there has never been any systematic study of what marathon swimmers actually think about these issues.

So that’s the motivation behind the survey. Anyone (marathon swimmer or otherwise) is invited to take it, by the way.

In closing, I’d like to quote a Michael Oram email from the Channel Swimmers chat group, which to my mind at least, eloquently captures the “spirit” of the sport:

It has always amazed me how athletes spend such a lot of time trying to stretch the rules and find aids. Channel swimming is a personal competition between the swimmer and the elements. Looking for that extra edge all the time is a negative approach as instead of working within the established parameters you are grasping at straws to get a little more assistance, or confidence.

Once you have started it’s you against the elements; whatever hat you are – or are not wearing.

Related external post:Confused” – by Jamie Patrick, Adventure Swimmer

4 thoughts on “Take the marathon swimming rules survey”

  1. 2 comments regarding the poll.

    One, I voted “in favor” using the boat to shield the swimmer from waves and wind. Not because I think it is correct, but I think it would be very hard to logistically rule that out. Sure the boat could travel behind the swimmer, but is that safe? what about feedings?

    Two, I voted “in favor” of alcohol because I know some like to rinse with mouth wash (e.g. Mead). I do not think someone should be permitted to drink alcohol.

    Pretty cool poll, can’t wait to see all the data compiled – I hope you guys get a nice sample size!

    1. You got me on the alcohol question – I should have clarified that it only related to drinking it (though, I think most people interpreted it that way). I use mouthwash too!

      Question: What would you consider a good sample size?

      1. No clue on sample size. My stats background is very specific to one field. My guess is that even 20 replies is going to give you some relatively strong trends since it’s a pretty narrow population to begin with. Obviously it would be awesome to get 100+.

    2. just to speak to your swimmer leading the boat point… I’ve done a swim (a relay in the Monterey Bay) where we tried having the boat follow us while kayaks navigated in the dark… assuming you like straight lines that shit doesn’t work

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