How to be a Good Support Swimmer

Posted by Scott Zornig, 1 April 2014

support swimmer

During my first marathon swim, I used support swimmers. I appreciated having them in the water as it was comforting to me. Most of my support swimmers did a good job, but I did not give them any direction beforehand as it was my first swim. I still remember in hour 9, my masters swim coach alternating between backstroke and breaststroke 15 yards in front of me. I knew I was moving slow and he was a constant reminder. Although well intended, he was not helping and was actually depressing me in my attempt to cross the channel.

My guess is that over 70% of SBCSA soloists use support swimmers. A good support swimmer can lift spirits and provide peace of mind. Poor support can be disruptive and mentally break a swimmer. Below is my list of “do’s and don’ts” in support swimming:

The 20 do’s and don’ts of support swimming

  1. Discuss all rules of engagement beforehand with the marathon swimmer
  2. Do not swim ahead or in front of the swimmer
  3. Do not provide a draft for the swimmer
  4. Do not do breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, sidestroke or any stroke but freestyle
  5. Always swim freestyle. If the swimmer is going slow, switch to one arm freestyle, but try to mask this from the swimmer.
  6. Swim a few feet behind the swimmer (on the left or right)
  7. Swim on the side which is preferred by the swimmer and stay there unless told otherwise
  8. Do not eat in front of the swimmer. If you need to feed, it is probably a good time to change swimmers
  9. Do not complain about the water being cold
  10. Do not scream as you jump in the water to start your leg of support
  11. Do not complain about the conditions
  12. Do not run into or bump the swimmer
  13. Do not rest on the kayak
  14. Do not wear a wetsuit, neoprene cap or fins unless previously cleared with the swimmer
  15. Do not physically assist the swimmer
  16. Do not announce anything you see under the water unless it is positive (ie, Dolphin)
  17. Do not do anything which might remind the swimmer that they are moving slowly
  18. Provide the observer with useful information about the swimmer
  19. Encourage, encourage and encourage some more
  20. Respect the rules of the sanctioning organization

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