Who holds the record for the longest unassisted marathon swim?

Posted by Scott Zornig, 12 June 2015

An editorial by Scott Zornig

See the Marathon Swimmers Federation’s Recognized Solo Distance Records list for the most current information.

I was recently asked the question “Who holds the record for the longest non-stop marathon swim ever completed?” The timing of the question is good as Jamie Patrick (USA) attempts a June 24th, 78 mile swim in the Bahamas which he hopes to have certified as a world distance record if successful.

Although the answer should be easy and straightforward, there is a great deal of confusion outside the marathon swimming community due to claims made by previous swimmers coupled with misinformation disseminated by the uneducated, negligent, indolent media.

If you asked the general public this question, chances are they would not know the answer or would respond with the name Diana Nyad. If they took time to research the subject via the internet or various publications before responding, I am quite sure they would reply with one of the below names/swims:

These swims were all over 100 miles long. Three of these swimmers went as far as having Guinness recognize their endeavor as the world’s longest ocean swim and all made claims of having swum farther than anyone else….ever!

So which of these athletes has the current record for the world’s longest swim? The answer is…..NONE OF THE ABOVE!

It is my opinion and the opinion of the Marathon Swimmers Federation that Chloё McCardel’s (Australia) 77.3 mile, 42.5 hour swim from South Eleuthera Island to Nassau last October, is the longest unassisted marathon swim ever completed. To understand why, it is important to understand what I believe marathon swimming is:

Marathon swimming is the extreme sport of swimming long distances in oceans, lakes and rivers without the use of any assistance. Generally, the distance begins at 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles to over 100 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 or assistance. Completing a course and finishing is celebrated as much as setting a time record 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, food and an escort boat. Marathon swimmers are not allowed the use of devices or aids which make them artificially faster, warmer, colder or buoyant. 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, colder, buoyant or harm the environment. 
Marathon swims are officiated and authenticated by trained, experienced, credible observers who record all data and insure that the rules are closely 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

Skin Lubricant/Sun screen; One silicone or latex swim cap; Goggles; Ear Plugs; Nose Clips; Glow sticks or safety lights; Painkillers and anti-inflammatory’s such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Naproxen; Caffeine; Food; One porous swimsuit; Global Positioning Systems; Escort vehicle; Safety devices which do not make the swimmer faster, warmer, colder, buoyant or harm the environment

Not allowed on a marathon swim

Drafting off boat, swimmer or any device; Fins; Booties; Head phones; Gloves; Paddles; Shark cages; Netting; Wetsuits; Compression suits; Face Guards; Multiple caps; Neoprene caps; Streamers; Warm Showers; Physical contact (i.e., assistance in and out of water or in and out of swimsuit); Rest on support vehicle or kayak; Exiting and returning to water; Performance enhancing drugs; Absence of trained observers; Safety devices which make the swimmer faster, warmer, colder, buoyant or harm the environment.

Some marathon swims are governed by local organizations which sanction the endeavor. It is possible to follow the “local rules” of the sanctioning organization and receive certification for a finished venture, but not receive community or peer acceptance for a marathon swim if one or more of the preceding rules were broken or ignored.

For distance purposes, marathon swims done in rivers are categorized differently than marathon swims completed in oceans, bays and lakes due to the prevailing downhill current of the river. River swims, however, are subject to the same rules as those attempted in lakes and saltwater.”

Based on this definition of marathon swimming, the 100 mile+ swims listed above do not count as a marathon swim. They are considered a “stage swim,” “assisted swim” or swimming stunt. These swims did not follow marathon swimming’s 140 year old rules or are lacking in evidence. These swims included shark cages, fins, face masks, protective swimwear, warm showers, periodic rest or physical assistance. Label their endeavors as you will, but they are not a marathon swim. The lone exception is Veljko Rogošić’s 2006 swim which is the most difficult to discount as I have heard he was a purist and I believe he did attempt to closely follow marathon swimming rules. Unfortunately, there are several problems with Veljko’s swim which include:

In my opinion, there is no excuse for modern day marathon swimmers not to thoroughly document their swim and use credible officials. I am sorry to say, but the Guinness Book of World Records is not a credible source for verifying a marathon swimming record. They know little about marathon swimming and do not understand our rules. I am quite confident that I could put a person from Guinness on a boat and allow the swimmer to 1) wear unauthorized apparel 2) take boat breaks and 3) wear fins, and the representative from Guinness would not know the difference. Please understand that I am not saying Veljko Rogošić did not complete his swim or follow marathon swimming rules. I am saying there is a lack of evidence and documentation for his swim other than Guinness and that is not enough to count in my record book. Please keep in mind that this swim was done in 2006 so we can’t argue the swimmer did not understand the importance of documenting the swim. Any swim of this magnitude should have been thoroughly documented and witnessed by credible people.

Unfortunately, Veljko passed away in August of 2012 at the age of 71 so we are unable to talk to him. His swim was brought to the marathon swim community’s attention the same year he died. So unless someone can come forward with irrefutable evidence of this swim (i.e., observer reports, maps, GPS tracker, pictures, video’s etc.), the swim does not count as a marathon swim. I will happily change my opinion if proof of this swim surfaces someday. The marathon swimming community must have evidence of record setting swims (or any marathon swim for that matter) to be acknowledged. Otherwise, anyone can claim anything anytime they want and, of course, the media will probably put it in print.

If you want the record and subsequent glory, Make sure you have credible observers documenting your story!

Marathon swimming is such a beautiful and pure sport. There is no other sport like it as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, a person can easily circumvent our tradition and our rules while knowingly (and even unknowingly in a few cases) misrepresenting their accomplishment. If it is important for a swimmer to be recognized for the longest, the fastest, or the first, they simply need to document, document, document so our community can celebrate their accomplishment with them. Documentation is mandatory if any swimmer wants to be recognized by their peers and it is so easy to do with the technology that exists today.

I have no problem discrediting the swims of Diana Nyad, Walter Poenish and Susan Maroney. On the other hand, it saddens me to have to discount Veljko Rogošić’s swim, but I have to deal in evidence. It is the right and fair thing to do. Therefore, I celebrate and acknowledge Chloё McCardel’s stoic swim as the longest unassisted marathon swim until someone comes along and swims farther than she did. Of course, when they do, I would not be surprised to see Chloe attempt 80 or even 100 miles. Records are meant to be broken and this one will be broken over and over again.

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