Rules of Marathon Swimming - Supplement


Special Swim Types

Certain types of swims require additions or modifications to the standard rules for a one-way swim (Point A to Point B). Swimmers and observers should incorporate the indented portions below into their declared Swim Rules, as appropriate.

Multi-Leg Swims

A multi-leg swim is a swim that reaches one or more intermediate destinations (shores) before the final destination.

The simplest form of a multi-leg swim is a two-way (“double”) channel crossing - a swim from one shore to a different, non-contiguous shore, and then returning to the first shore.

However, a multi-leg swim need not return to the original shore. For example, a swim from Island A to Island B to Island C is also a multi-leg swim, with Island A to Island B as “Leg 1” and Island B to Island C as “Leg 2.”

For a multi-leg swim, add the following two rules:

1. After finishing one leg of the swim, the swimmer may rest for up to 10 minutes before beginning the next leg. While resting, the swimmer may be supported by a natural land mass but not by people or artificial objects.

2. Timing of the first leg begins when the swimmer enters the water and ends when the swimmer finishes the leg. Timing of subsequent legs begins at the end of the previous leg and includes any break on shore.

Circumnavigation Swims

A circumnavigation swim is a swim around an island (or islands). For a circumnavigation swim, replace the standard Rule #1 (Start & Finish) with the following:

The swim begins when the swimmer enters the water from the island’s shore. If no beach is available on the island, the swimmer may begin the swim by touching and releasing from part of the island’s shore (e.g., cliff face).

The swim finishes when the swimmer swims around the island and then clears the water beyond the starting point (or touches the island’s shore beyond the starting point, if no beach is available).

If access to the island is restricted, the swimmer may start and finish offshore, as long as (s)he “closes the loop” by swimming beyond the starting point, as measured by GPS.

Relay Swims

A swim undertaken by a team of two or more swimmers, swimming in successive turns of a fixed time interval, in a fixed order.

For a relay swim, add the following two rules:

1. Relay teams may choose the number of swimmers (six is standard) and the turn interval (one hour is standard), but the team roster, order, and interval must remain fixed for the duration of the swim.

2. The swimmer exchange takes place in the water, with the new swimmer approaching the previous swimmer from behind. The swimmers are allowed five minutes to complete the exchange, starting from the scheduled exchange time.

Stage Swims

A stage swim consists of two or more “stages,” between which the swimmer rests on shore or on an escort vessel.

For a stage swim, add the following two rules:

Each stage after the first should begin at or behind the finish location of the previous stage.

If the resting location is in open water, the observer must record the GPS coordinates of the stage start and finish locations.

Local Rule Variations in Marathon Swimming

Rules in marathon swimming date to 1927, when the newly-formed Channel Swimming Association wrote its first regulations for English Channel swims. CSA rules (often known as “Channel Rules”) are the basis for most contemporary marathon swimming rules and standards.

Local adaptations of Channel Rules have produced many slight variations on the original. In the absence of a global governing body with global rules, this has sometimes produced confusion about which rules are truly fundamental, and which are open to local modification.

Interestingly, even the “original” Channel Rules are written as local guidelines, not global guidelines. For example, CSA Rules state that after finishing the first leg of a two-way crossing, “Walking 200m along the shoreline to Cap Gris Nez is not permissable.”

The MSF believes there is a fundamental “spirit” shared by the many variations on Channel Rules, and it aims to codify this global spirit while remaining flexible to local adaptations. The MSF also recognizes existing, well-established local marathon swimming rules as legitimate adaptations of the global spirit of the sport.

MSF Rules do not invalidate existing local adaptations. Nor should existing local variations necessarily be applied globally.

Last Updated: January 6, 2014.