What is Marathon Swimming?

Posted by Scott Zornig, 7 January 2014

A non-swimming friend who was confused by the attention and uproar over last year’s endeavor from Cuba to Florida, recently asked me to explain marathon swimming. I did not find online definitions to be complete so below is my independent definition of our sport. Did I get it right? Please let me know.

Marathon swimming is the extreme sport of swimming long distances in oceans, lakes and rivers without the use of any assistance. Generally, the distances range from a minimum of 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles all the way up to the current word record of 67.26 miles. The distance of a marathon swim can vary depending on event and location. Water temperature, air temperature, wind speed, currents, tides, wave height, boat traffic, and sea life are major determinants in success and finish times. These factors vary dramatically from day to day, making it difficult to compare swimmer speed and abilities. The concept of Marathon swimming is man or woman overcoming what Mother Nature provides on a given day without the use of modern technology. Completing a course and finishing is celebrated as much as setting a record time due to ever changing conditions

Competitive pool, Open Water and triathlon swimming are separate sports with different rules unrelated to marathon swimming. Marathon swimmers are only allowed the basic necessities of a swimsuit, swim cap, ear and nose plugs, goggles, skin lubricant and food. Marathon swimmers are not allowed the use of devices or aids which make them artificially faster, warmer, buoyant or are harmful to the environment. Marathon swimmers are not allowed any physical contact during the endeavor as they are expected to succeed or fail under their own power. The rules of marathon swimming have remained sacred and unchanged since 1875, the only exception being the introduction of GPS and the use of new safety devices which do not make the swimmer faster, warmer, buoyant or are harmful to the environment.

Marathon swims are officiated and authenticated by trained observers who record all data and insure that the rules are followed. If a swimmer violates these rules, it is the observer’s obligation to disqualify the swimmer…even if the infraction is minor. The observer is also responsible for timing the event from start to finish and terminating the swim if an unsafe situation is present.

Allowed on a marathon swim

Not allowed on a marathon swim


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