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MARATHON SWIMMING RULES


The rules for marathon swimming around the world are varied and confusing, swimmers should take note, discovers Simon Griffiths…





THE RULES


For most sports, once you learn the rules you know how to play just about anywhere in the world. Not so with marathon


swimming (see box for a defi nition of marathon swimming). In a recent newslet er, Scot Zornig, President of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, bemoaned the lack of consistency between diff erent ratifying organisations around the world, of which he counted 30.


The English Channel, in many ways the spiritual home of marathon swimming, has two ratifying organisations – the Channel Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation – and there are even rule diff erences between these. For example, the CS&PF allow jammers for men (these are trunks that extend to just above the knee), whereas the CSA insists costumes do not extend beyond the thigh. However, despite a few diff erences, rules are broadly similar between these two organisations, and because of its long history, these core English Channel swimming rules have been used as the basis for many other marathon swims around the world. However, like Chinese whispers and rumours, these have changed as they've spread, and have been adapted to fi t local circumstances. For example, man-eating sharks rarely (if ever) present a hazard in the English Channel, so English Channel rules have nothing to say about how to deal with them. Where sharks exist, there are various options:


○ Exit the water if a predator threatens. Swim abandoned. ○ Exit the water as in (1) above, but re-enter the water and continue the swim once the threat has passed.


○ Use a shark cage. A number of long-distance swims have been completed inside shark cages but these are usually considered to be ‘assisted swims’ rather than true marathon swims, as the cage tends to provide some drag benefi ts to the swimmer (and also helps block jellyfi sh).


○ Use electronic shark shields. These emit a three-dimensional electrical wave that repels sharks but off er no other physical protection or advantage.


Purists argue that the true marathon swimmer should deal with all that nature throws at them. Others say that if there’s a harmless way to keep sharks at bay then go ahead and use it or if you need to get out of the water for safety reasons you should still be allowed to continue once the danger has passed. This diversity of opinion is refl ected in the diff erent rules adopted by various sanctioning organisations. 


40 WHAT IS MARATHON SWIMMING?


Defi nition from the marathonswimmers.org forum: A marathon swim is a continuous swim of at least 10km, using only a textile swimsuit, non-neoprene cap, goggles, and grease. This distance was chosen for its equivalence in time-to-completion to a 26.2-mile marathon run. Alternative defi nitions suggest a minimum distance of 10 miles or 20km.


The basic rules of marathon swimming have stood for nearly 140 years:


○ Nothing may be used or worn that aids speed, buoyancy, heat retention, or endurance (e.g., wetsuits, neoprene caps, gloves, paddles, fi ns, etc.). ○ No physical contact with support craſt or personnel during the swim. ○ The swimmer must start and fi nish on dry land. When safely accessible dry land is not available, a rock or sheer cliff face with no seawater beyond will suffi ce.


Photo © sosfi lmphotographysound.com


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