Defining Open Water Swimming Relays

Defining Open Water Swimming Relays

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The relay genre within the open water swimming world is currently in its heyday with swims – record-setting attempts, charity events and relay races – being held all over the globe.

The relay genre can be defined and separated into eight general classifications:

1. Channel Relays
2. Competitive Relays
3. Charity Relays (including eco relays)
4. Staged Relays
5. Freestyle Relays
6. Masters Relays
7. Team Pursuit
8. Distance Relays

Channel relays have always been popular in the English Channel and Catalina Channel where six swimmers rotate in one-hour segments. The order of the swimmers must not change throughout the swim and every swimmer must complete their leg. If the order or the length of any rotation of any swimmer is compromised, the relay is not certified as following the rules of these channels. These traditional relay rules can be found here.

The fastest relay time in the English Channel was set by the USA National Swim Team in 6 hours and 52 minutes in 1990 (which is only 5 minutes faster than the all-time solo record). The two-way relay record in the English Channel (14:18) was set by the USA National Swim Team in 1990, which is 1 hour and 52 minutes faster than the all-time solo record. Amazingly, Philip Rush’s three-way solo record of 28:21 is faster than the fastest three-way relay record in the English Channel, set by Sport City (Mexico) in 2007 is 30:07. But Sport City (Mexico) has the fastest four-way relay record in the English Channel, set in 2007 (going from England to France to England to France to England) in 42:11.

In the Catalina Channel, the fastest relay records from Catalina to the mainland (mixed at 7:02, female at 7:04 or male at 7:11) are just slightly ahead of the solo record of Penny Dean (7:15).

Competitive relays follow the same general principles as the traditional channel relays with some modifications. While the number generally remains the same (i.e., six), there are variations in the number of swims and the length of the legs. In the case of the Trans Tahoe Relay, swimmers must stay in the same order, but on each rotation the swim time changes from 30 minutes on the first leg to 15 minutes on the second leg to 10 minutes on the third leg (that continues to the end). In the Maui Channel Relay, swimmers stay in the same order, but the first rotation is 30 minutes in length and then the second and subsequent rotations are 10 minutes in length. In the 45K Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and the 26K Lake Zürich International Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim, as two other examples, the relays can be two or four people and vary in time length.

Charity relays, including relays that aim to raise money or awareness for ecological or environmental causes, come in all kinds of rotations, duration and can follow their own rules unless they specifically state they will follow certain rules. For example, while traditionalists eschew wetsuits, numerous charity relay swimmers can wear wetsuits. The 25K Swim Across The Sound, as three other examples, the relays can be two or four people and vary in time length.

Stage relays