Great you are swimming - but how much are you giving BACK to the sport?

NedNed Charter Member
edited March 2012 in General Discussion
Donal Buckley "convinced me" to provide a few thoughts on our sport.

It is posted in (14 March) - so you may have to go down a page or two. I did my best to paste (a shorter version) it in below - think about it !

Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.

Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.

He is an International Swimming International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world.

Essential Volunteering to support solo swims and swimmers (with added maths)

Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.

Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.

My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.

“WHAT ??????”

“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”

There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.

I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.

First of all – well done!

Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.

Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:

9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)

9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours

“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”

Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!

The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.

=20 person hours.

Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers

2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours

Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

1*8 (5 hours plus travel time) + (2 crew *8 hours)/5 + (10 volunteers*8 hour +100 hours)/20 = 20 person hours

Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.

10 events * ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (10 volunteers*4 hours+135 hours)/20 swimmers) =

92 person hours

Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)


Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.

I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!

I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.


For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!

Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)


The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.

We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.


I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.

Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours

Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours

Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours

Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours

Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour

So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!

So, my call to action is to change the dynamic.

1.Accept the principal that YOU OWE
2.Start volunteering. Miss one swim in 10 to help.
3.Learn to kayak. Borrow your brother’s boat.
Start now….


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandAdmin
    I've said on my blog that I think this is an essential and important article on our sport. Sandycove island Swim Club in Ireland at least, (Ned is secretary) relies on volunteers every year for people doing long qualification swims, races, Ned's Distance Week, and just looking after people regularly. As a consequence of this discussion for example, the SISC club committee is going to look at a way of tracking volunteer time or ways of bringing more people into volunteer, maybe the marathon swimmers sacrifice short swims so this will be reciprocated, maybe we try to get more people kayaking, or work more closely before the season starts with the local kayak club etc. The World's Most Popular Open Water Swimming Blog

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    For channel swimmers: Have you volunteered as crew on at least as many crossings as the total number of crew members on your own crossing(s)?

    If not, you may not be "giving back" enough!
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandAdmin
    If I could spend my life crewing, I'd be a very happy man, it is a fantastic honour to be part of someone's swim. I think every swimmer should crew, to at least get an appreciation of how essential your crew is to your success. The World's Most Popular Open Water Swimming Blog

  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CACharter Member
    We have begun a serious pilot training program at the South End including, Kayak training, Zodiac Training, Radio Training, First Aid training & Cpr, meetings with Coast Guard and Vessel traffic, tide lectures. Our "long swim" program requires swimmers to volunteer piloting or other duties as a requirement to do these our success has begun to burden the regulars....Our success and growth has made it essential for others to step up and help and in the long run it is a good thing to do...

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    This is a great thread I like Ned's formula, but the truth is I have crewed more because I consider it a privilege than an obligation. I have had the pleasure of watching a few great MIMS races unfold, and last year I had the opportunity to crew for friends swimming Catalina, Ederle, MIMS, and Memphre.

    I think crewing is also a great way to get some really good beta on a swim and should be considered part of a logical progression toward a solo attempt.... crew, relay, solo.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • jcmalickjcmalick Wilmington, DECharter Member
    Crewing is a great way to give back especially if the swim allows, to be a pace swimmer! Ultimately, my preference is to have an up close and personal experience with the swimmer in the water as I know the thoughts and joy that are going on within. Kayakers, often unpaid except for a t-shirt and hopefully an ounce of gratitude from their swimmers, are a pivotal position when the swim calls for their service (obviously swims such as the English Channel and Farallones would not classify as the conditions usually jeopardize the kayaker's position and safety)! This year I almost have as many escort roles planned as I do marathon swims including at least the Potomac River Swim, MIMS, possibly Kingdom, and a Delaware Bay Crossing. In the end, be nice to your kayaker and if you can lend your experience as a swimmer to another by taking a supporting cast position, you will feel such a reward and have a greater understanding of the worthiness of every person that makes a swim a success!
  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    Besides crewing on channel crossings, helping out at local open water swims is a great way to help encourage and develop the younger generations of open water swimmers, some of whom may develop into channel and marathon swimmers. Volunteer to be a body marker, a timer, an official, a safety officer or race packet stuffer. Volunteer to speak at age-group swim teams. Volunteer to help out at open water conferences. You never know what kid or adult who you can inspire and help become a channel swimmer.

    Steven Munatones Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    FYI - Ned Denison will be inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Ned is not an Honor Swimmer in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame is exclusively devoted to marathon swimmers while the International Swimming Hall of Fame includes primarily pool swimmers with a fewer number of divers, water polo players, coaches, administrators, synchronized swimmers and a very select handful of open water swimmers. For an open water swimmer to become a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, he or she must go through a more difficult vetting process and only the very best have been selected (e.g., Alison Streeter, Lynne Cox, Penny Dean, Greta Andersen, Michael Read, John Kinsella, Kevin Murphy, Paul Asmuth). For more information, visit Ned will be formally honored at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Long Beach, California on September 22, 2012 as an Honour Administrator. He will be joined by a number of other Honour Swimmers and Honour Organisations. Please note that the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame uses the British spelling vs. the International Swimming Hall of Fame which uses American spelling.

    Steven Munatones Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • suziedodssuziedods Charter Member
    edited January 2014
    Great post... It's something to think about and something that I often wonder if some of the sorry.."younger" folks think about.
    We all give back in our own way. Not everyone is able to kayak, crew or even swim however so it's always good to "think outside the box".I know I would love to crew but I'd be completely worthless on a boat, I'd be a hindrance I get so seasick.
    "Giving back" may not even be in the realm of swimming!

    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach

  • I think giving back to your sport whether it be swimming, running, biking, tris is the most important thing you can do. Yes, you do hand over wads of cash for the privilege of beating yourself up for a couple of hours but the majority of those looking after your safety (even thou you do not perceive that) are volunteers.

    I was meant to run the Colfax Marathon in denver last year. It did not happen due to injury but I made damn sure we as a family+one of the boys' gurlfriends, thats 5 of us, went out and helped at the event. Yes, they were bored stiff and hoarse with shouting but they got a slap up breakfast out of me and the satisfaction that they gave something back to their fellow humans.

    I make a point of thanking every volunteer I can find on 'race' day. A little tough on the swims but I try. This year I want to start tackling some swim only events here in Colorado and will be looking for volunteer opps too.
  • KNicholasKNicholas ArizonaCharter Member
    Given the current discussion on MIMS and it's complicated logistics, it's important for swimmers to remember that great swims require great volunteers (even better when those volunteers are familiar with open water swimming). Just food for thought as the open water season gets into full gear. Volunteering as a kayaker, observer, race packet stuffer, timer, food crew, or boat crew member is the best way to ensure that swims don't fall off the map.
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