Welcome to the Rules & Regulations of the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA). These guidelines outline the standard rules, regulations, and protocols that govern open water racing events, marathon solo swims, and relays.
WOWSA 1.0: Events #
The World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) rules for open water swimming events in various natural bodies of water. These events provide opportunities for swimmers to participate in races held in diverse environments, including rivers, lakes, oceans, and other waterways.
WOWSA 1.1: Age Limits
Race Directors and Referees shall determine the minimum age requirements for open water races.However, as a general guideline, swimmers under the age of 8 are not encouraged to do open water swims over 1 mile. Swimmers under the age of 10 are strongly encouraged to swim with a responsible adult in races of at least 1 mile. Swims that have children under the age of 14 are strongly encouraged to have courses along the shoreline.
WOWSA 1.2: Safety
WOWSA emphasizes and requires that athletes, volunteers, and event staff make safety the highest priority at all times. Adherence to rules, protocols, procedures, and policies must be put aside when there is an issue of personal safety during any open water event.
WOWSA 2.1 – Officials and Their Duties: #
The following officials can be utilized during a open water race. Some individuals may fulfill dual roles during an event, and some official positions may not be necessary in some events:
- Safety Officer
- Medical Officer
- Course Officer
The subsequent sections will outline the specific duties and responsibilities of each official role.
- Full control and authority over all officials
- Approves assignments and provides instructions related to the competition
- Enforces all rules and decisions
- Decides questions and issues regarding the conduct of the competition
- Has the authority to intervene to ensure rule compliance
- Starts each race at the specified time
- Uses appropriate device (air horn, whistle, etc.) for the start
- Can fulfill other roles or responsibilities after the race starts
- Works with the timing company to record official and accurate times
- Conducts time checks for synchronization before the start
- Confirms records, official times, and placings after the event
- Responsible for all aspects of safety during the competition
- Checks course and areas for hazards and obstructions
- Ensures sufficient safety craft and medical personnel are available
- Provides information on water conditions and hazards to swimmers
- Advises on unsuitable conditions and recommends modifications if necessary
- Prepares a comprehensive Safety Document for staff and volunteers
- Responsible for medical aspects related to the event and competitors
- Advises on unsuitable conditions and recommends modifications if necessary
- Coordinates with local medical facilities for injuries and evacuations
- Responsible for marking the course, turn buoys, and intermediate stages
- Uses GPS technology and records information
- Ensures correct markings and functioning of start and finish areas
- Uses variations in buoys for better course visibility
- Ensures proper identification of competitors
- Manages swimmers’ assembly and provides time updates
- Records withdrawals from the event and informs relevant officials
- Enters results and reasons on official forms
- Reports rule violations to the Referee
- Informs athletes of rule infringements
- Documents the event
- Completes the Observer Report
- Witnesses activities and provides detailed documentation
- Adjudicates the rules
WOWSA 3.0 – Race Equipment: #
The following guidelines outline the rules and recommendations regarding equipment used in open water races:
WOWSA 3.1 – Escort and Safety Craft:
- Escort and safety craft should avoid navigating through a pack of athletes, unless responding to an emergency.
- If an escort or safety craft impedes another athlete, the athlete associated with that boat will be immediately disqualified.
WOWSA 3.2 – Swim Gear:
- If permitted by the Race Director, athletes may wear any number of swim caps, heart rate monitors, wristwatches, protective swimwear (including full-length swimsuits), and wetsuits.
- Separate awards should be offered for athletes who wear only FINA-legal swimsuits, one swim cap, goggles, and/or ear and/or nose plugs.
WOWSA 3.3 – Additional Equipment:
- Local governing bodies or Race Directors may have separate categories for fins, snorkels, swim streamers, hand paddles or other safety devices.
- Athletes using these types of equipment will not be eligible for the same awards as athletes who wear only FINA-legal swimsuits, one swim cap, goggles, and/or ear and/or nose plugs.
WOWSA 3.4 – Sunscreen and Skin Protection:
- Athletes may apply any type of sunscreen or skin lubrication, such as lanolin or Vaseline®, on any part of their body.
WOWSA 3.5 – Jewelry and Accessories:
- Athletes are encouraged to remove jewelry, necklaces, rings, and wristwatches during the event.
- The Referee may require the removal of all jewelry, including wristwatches and rings, during the race if deemed necessary.
WOWSA 3.6 – Course Marking:
- The course is best marked with a combination of Turn Buoys and Guide Buoys of different colors, sizes, and shapes.
- Turn Buoys indicate a turn or change of direction and can only be navigated on either the left or right side of the athletes.
- Guide Buoys are aids in helping swimmers understand the course layout and can be navigated on either side.
- Point-to-point courses may utilize consecutively numbered Turn Buoys.
WOWSA 3.7 – Timing Systems:
- WOWSA encourages the use of timing systems with transponders or timing chips.
- If such a system is not used, stopwatches with memory and print-out capability are strongly encouraged.
WOWSA 3.8 – Video Recording:
- WOWSA encourages the use of video-recording devices at the start and finish of the event to capture the athletes’ entry into the water and the completion of the race.
WOWSA 3.9 – Promotion and Media:
- WOWSA encourages the use of social media, pre- and post-race press releases, and photographs to promote events
- Press releases should include the official results of at least the top 5 in each division.
WOWSA 3.10 – Aerial Photography and Videography:
- WOWSA encourages the use of aerial photography and videography to capture the event course and showcase the event for media purposes.
WOWSA 3.11 – Carrying Fuel:
- Athletes are permitted to carry their own fuel (e.g., gel packs) in their swimsuits or swim caps.
WOWSA 4.0 – Open Water Safety WOWSA #
4.1 – Open Water Safety: Many Rules, Different Venues, One Goal
- Numerous rules, interpretations, and traditions at different levels dictate open water safety procedures.
- The ultimate goal is to ensure safety for all participants.
WOWSA 4.2 – Every open water swimming course is different and can vary day-to-day and hour-to-hour
- Open water swimming courses are unique and subject to change.
- Safety plans should be based on local knowledge and expertise.
WOWSA 4.3 – Safety depends on flexible and sensible rules and guidelines
- Safety in open water swimming requires adaptable rules supported by common sense.
- Rules should be properly planned, documented, approved, and executed.
WOWSA 4.4 – Considerations for different types of events and locations
- Considerations may vary for professional swimmers, amateurs, competitions, and bodies of water.
- Two fundamental principles: visual contact with every swimmer and no blind spots along the course.
WOWSA 4.5 – Visual contact with swimmers throughout the race
- Swimmers should be potentially visible at all points in the race.
- Eliminate blind spots to adhere to WOWSA Open Water Safety rules.
WOWSA 4.6 – Mental state assessment and athlete removal
- Athletes showing signs of mental impairment should be immediately removed from the water, even if they protest.
- Race officials have the final authority in ensuring athlete safety.
WOWSA 4.7 – Monitoring the lead pack
- Lead boats should have referees or race officials to monitor the lead pack or actively lead the fastest swimmers.
WOWSA 4.8 – Monitoring middle-of-the-pack and trailing swimmers
- Official boats and safety marshals should ensure the safety of swimmers in the middle and back of the race.
- Safety personnel may include kayakers, paddlers, surf skiers, or stand-up paddlers.
WOWSA 4.9 – Responsibility of safety staff and communication
- Safety personnel should continuously scan the field and be equipped with means of communication.
- Promptly alert swimmers and officials in case of problems or emergencies.
WOWSA 4.10 – Numbering athletes for easy identification
- All swimmers should be numbered or marked visibly for easy identification during the race.
- Numbering facilitates identification and tracking of swimmers.
WOWSA 4.11 – Pre-race safety briefing
- Comprehensive safety briefing before the race covering essential information, hazards, and emergency procedures.
- Ensure participants fully understand safety protocols and their responsibilities.
WOWSA 4.12 – Mandatory safety equipment
- Make specific safety equipment mandatory based on the event and water conditions.
- Strictly enforce compliance with safety equipment requirements.
WOWSA 4.13 – Water temperature guidelines
- Establish water temperature guidelines and regularly monitor temperatures.
- Include provisions for wetsuit usage or restrictions based on water temperature.
WOWSA 4.14 – Weather monitoring and response
- Continuously monitor weather conditions, including wind speed, wave height, and visibility.
- Have response plans for altering the course or canceling the event in unsafe weather.
WOWSA 4.15 – Emergency response plan
- Develop a well-defined emergency response plan for various scenarios.
- Outline responsibilities and communication protocols for coordinating emergency responses.
WOWSA 4.16 – Communication systems
- Establish and test effective communication systems before the race.
- Clear channels of communication are essential for coordinating emergency responses.
WOWSA 4.17 – Medical support
- Ensure adequate medical support throughout the race, including trained personnel and access to emergency services.
- Medical staff should be familiar with open water rescue techniques.
WOWSA 4.18 – Post-race safety procedures
- Implement proper post-race procedures, including medical evaluation and necessary care.
- Ensure participants safely recover from exertion and potential exposure.
WOWSA 4.19 – Continuous evaluation and improvement
- Regularly review, evaluate, and update safety protocols and procedures.
- Collaboration among organizers, safety personnel, and stakeholders is important.
WOWSA 4.20 – Video monitoring and surveillance
- Strategically place video cameras along the course to enhance safety.
- Monitor swimmers’ progress, identify hazards, and review footage for analysis and improvement.
- Follow privacy regulations and guidelines to maintain participant rights and confidentiality.
WOWSA 5.0 – The Start #
WOWSA 5.1 – Pre-determined Start
- The start shall be pre-determined and noted in the event information.
- The start can be on land, on a fixed or floating platform, or partly or entirely in the water.
- All athletes should have a fair opportunity to be in the position they wish.
- In crowded conditions, the general principle of first come first serve applies.
- The Referee can give warnings and disqualifications before the start for cheating, non-adherence to the rules or pre-race instructions, or for unsportsmanlike conduct.
WOWSA 5.2 – Starting from a Fixed Platform
- When starting from a fixed platform, athletes shall be assigned a position on the platform, as determined by random draw.
WOWSA 5.3 – Freedom of Starting Position
- Athletes may start anywhere within the starting area of their choice.
WOWSA 5.4 – Time Informing Intervals
- Participants should be informed of the time before the start at suitable intervals.
- WOWSA recommends 10-minute, 5-minute, 3-minute, and 1-minute intervals with a 10-second countdown.
- The Referee and the Starter may determine a different system if necessary.
WOWSA 5.5 – Fair Start and Safety
- The Referee and Starter shall attempt to execute a fair start.
- Safety considerations take precedence in crowded conditions.
WOWSA 5.6 – Accommodations for National & Local Governing Body Rules
- If national or local organizations require separate heats for their members to participate, accommodations should be made as required by their respective rules.
- For example, U.S. Masters Swimming or USA Swimming members may start either 5 minutes before or after non-U.S. Masters Swimming members or non-USA Swimming members.
WOWSA 5.7 – Start Format for Open Water Events
- Events may start men and women, boys and girls, disabled and able-bodied athletes separately or together as desired.
- However, awards should be given separately to each gender
WOWSA 5.8 – Visible Starter
- The Starter shall be positioned to be clearly visible to all athletes.
WOWSA 5.9 – Unfair Advantage at the Start
- If an unfair advantage is perceived by the Referee at the start, the offending athlete may be given a yellow or red flag.
WOWSA 5.10 – Stationing of Escort and Safety Craft
- All escort and safety craft (e.g., kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, electric boats, motorized vessels) shall be stationed at a safe distance from the swimmers.
- The safe distance is determined by local jurisdictions (e.g., Fire Department, Lifeguards, Coast Guard) and must be maintained at all times
WOWSA 5.11 – Non-Interference of Escort and Safety Craft
- The escort and safety craft shall not interfere with or impede any athlete.
- If an escort craft dedicated to an individual athlete intentionally or unintentionally interferes with another athlete, the guided athlete shall be immediately disqualified
WOWSA 5.12 – Navigation of Escort Safety Craft
- All escort safety craft shall navigate without maneuvering through the field of athletes
- If an escort craft dedicated to an individual athlete violates this rule, the athlete whose escort craft is dedicated to should be immediately disqualified and removed from the course
WOWSA 5.13 – Men’s and Women’s Competitions
- Although men and women may start together, in all other respects, the men’s and women’s competitions shall be treated as separate events, with separate results
WOWSA 6.0 – The Course #
WOWSA 6.1 – Course Measurement
- The course should be accurately measured by GPS or other appropriate means
- The distance should be measured using the shortest straight-line tangents between start, turn buoys, and finish
WOWSA 6.2 – Conditions and Water Temperature Communication
- Expected conditions and water temperatures should be communicated to athletes in advance via the website and pre-race information
WOWSA 6.3 – Venue Suitability Certification
- A certificate of suitability for use of the venue should be issued by the appropriate local health and safety authorities
- In general terms, the certification should address both water purity and physical safety.
WOWSA 6.4 – Water Temperature Check
- On the day of the event, the water temperature should be checked at least one hour before the start in the middle of the course at a depth of 40 cm.
WOWSA 6.5 – Indication of Turns, Obstacles, and Landmarks
- All turns, obstacles, and landmarks of the course should be clearly indicated to the athletes before the start
WOWSA 6.6 – Secure Fixing of Course Elements
- All starting platforms, feeding pontoons, turn buoys, and guide buoys shall be securely fixed in position and not be subject to tidal, wind, or other natural or unexpected movements
WOWSA 6.7 – Clear Definition of Final Approach to Finish
- If possible, the final approach to the finish shall be clearly defined with markers or buoys of a distinctive color
WOWSA 6.8 – Clearly Defined and Marked Finish
- The precise finish should be clearly defined and marked to avoid ambiguity of finishing places
WOWSA 6.9 – Athlete Support and Touching Restrictions
- Athletes should not be supported, touched, or pushed during the swim at any point along the course unless there is a rescue or emergency
- In the case of sickness, injury, fear of marine life, or approaching marine life, if local rules allow, athletes may rest or place their hands and arms on their escort boat, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, paddleboard, pier, or other supportive structure during the event
- Athletes who are touched, supported, pushed, dragged along, or carried by their escort kayak or paddleboard at any point in the race should not be eligible for awards
WOWSA 6.10 – Fuel and Hydration Provision
- Athletes may be handed fuel (food) and hydration (drink) by their crew or coach from an escort boat, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or paddleboard.
- The fuel and hydration may be provided hand-to-hand or via a feeding stick, water bottle on a rope, or simply thrown to the athlete.
WOWSA 6.11 – Cleanliness and Waste Collection
- Escort crew, coaches, and the race organization shall endeavor to pick up all cups, gel packs, and other discard items from the body of water
- The goal of open water events should be to leave the area at least as pristine as it was before the event
WOWSA 6.12 – Compliance with Referee and Safety Officer Instructions
- The escort boat captains and crew, kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, or paddleboarders shall follow all instructions of the Referee and Safety Officer at all times
- These individuals should have the safety of all the athletes in mind at all times
WOWSA 6.13 – Documentation of Water Temperature and Conditions
- The water temperature and conditions should be documented by the Referee or Safety Officer
WOWSA 6.14 – Communication of Expected Conditions
- The race director must inform athletes of the expected conditions prior to the race day via the website and other race information
- This enables the athletes to prepare themselves to handle the expected water temperatures and conditions
- If the water temperature and conditions fall outside this expected range on race day, the Referee and Safety Officer shall make this announcement and any necessary modifications to the course
WOWSA 6.15 – Proper Rounding of Turn Buoys
- Properly rounding all turn buoys is the sole responsibility of the athlete
- Athletes shall be asked to properly round the turns if they inadvertently miss a turn
- If an athlete chooses to cut short the turn buoys even with a warning, they shall be immediately disqualified unless there are safety issues
- If an athlete cuts short turn buoys due to safety issues, the Referee shall make a determination of a possible disqualification
WOWSA 6.16 – Onshore Finish and Athlete Assistance
- In the case of an onshore finish, athletes are encouraged to clear the water and crawl, walk, or run across the finish line under their own power
- However, if an athlete is tired, weak, injured, or in obvious need of assistance, they should be immediately helped by volunteers
- The top priority of all open water events should be safety, where rules play a secondary role when there is a risk to an athlete
WOWSA 7.0 – The Race #
WOWSA 7.1 – Stroke Styles
- Athletes may swim any stroke style: any form of freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, or butterfly or any combination thereof
- Rules on butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke are noted in Sections 10.0, 11.0, and 12.0.
WOWSA 7.2 – Drafting and Pacing
- Drafting behind and pacing along other swimmers is permitted (see exception in WOWSA 7.3)
- Drafting behind escort boats, safety craft, kayaks, and paddle boards is not allowed.
- Navigating parallel to watercraft is permitted
WOWSA 7.3 – Drafting Behind Escort Boat
- Drafting behind an escort boat on a solo marathon swim or relay, or on a solo channel swim or relay is not permitted
- Swimming closely alongside an escort boat is permitted as long as the safety of the athlete is maintained
WOWSA 7.4 – Escort Boat Position
- Escort boats shall attempt to maintain a constant position to station the swimmer at or forward of the midpoint of the escort boat
WOWSA 7.5 – Standing on the Bottom
- Standing on the bottom during an event is not permitted except at the start and finish
WOWSA 7.6 – Rendering Assistance
- Rendering assistance by an official or referee to an athlete in apparent distress shall always supersede the official rules of disqualification
WOWSA 7.7 – Skin Lubrication
- Athletes shall be allowed to use skin lubrication or other substances on the skin as long as the substances are not serving to retain body heat
- Lanolin, Vaseline®, grease, and other such substances are permitted
WOWSA 7.8 – Pace Swimmers
- If allowed by local governing bodies or Race Directors, pace swimmers may be permitted, but the athlete should not draft off of a pace swimmer
- Pace swimmers for disabled and blind swimmers can be in any position relative to the athlete
WOWSA 7.9 – Coaching and Instructions
- Coaching and the giving of instructions by the athlete’s representative on the feeding platform or in the escort boat should b permitted
WOWSA 7.10 – Feeding Poles
- If allowed, feeding poles are not to exceed 5 meters in length when extended
- No objects, rope, or wire may hang off the end of feeding poles except flags
- Athletes are permitted to retrieve water bottles attached to rope
WOWSA 7.11 – Displaying Competition Number
- Each athlete should have their competition number clearly marked on their swim cap, shoulder or calf
- If there is a dedicated escort vessel, the athlete’s competition number should also be marked on both sides
WOWSA 7.12 – Athlete Disqualification
- Athletes may be disqualified by the referee at any time
- The referee may give a warning, a Yellow Card (or Flag), or a Red Card (or Flag)
- Two Yellow Cards (or Flags) lead to an immediate disqualification.
- A Red Card (or Flag) leads to an immediate disqualification.
WOWSA 7.13 – Unsportsmanlike Conduct
- If in the opinion of a referee, an action of an athlete or an escort safety craft is unsportsmanlike, the referee has the option to immediately disqualify the athlete
- Unsportsmanlike conduct includes pulling back an athlete by any body part, or sinking, dunking, punching, scratching, kicking, or swimming over another competitor
WOWSA 7.14 – Obstruction by Escort and Safety Craft
- Escort and safety craft should maneuver so as not to obstruct the direction or progress of any athlete
WOWSA 7.15 – Positioning of Escort Craft
- When there is a dedicated escort craft, the craft should attempt to maintain a constant position vis-à-vis their athlete
- The athlete should be positioned near the midpoint of the escort craft on their primary breathing side
WOWSA 7.16 – Standing and Dolphining
- Using sandbar or ocean floor to push off and dolphining in and out of the water just after the start or near the finish should be permissible
- Dolphining in the middle of the race is not allowed unless exempted by the referee
WOWSA 7.17 – Shallow Areas
- Athletes encountering a shallow area along the course (e.g., within a coral reef, on a sandbar, along a jetty, or near a pier) may stand up if allowed by the referee or safety officer for safety reasons
- However, the athlete may not walk along the course, dolphin, or jump in the forward motion to gain an advantage.
WOWSA 7.18 – Rendering Assistance
- Rendering assistance to any athlete in apparent distress should always supersede the rules of conduct and disqualification
- If an athlete assists another athlete on a kayak, paddle board, or boat while touching the boat, an official, a volunteer, or another swimmer, the assisting athlete shall not be disqualified
- Rules governing touching another individual, a fixed pontoon, or watercraft shall be waived when rendering assistance to another athlete in distress during the race
WOWSA 7.19 – Assistance to Physically and Intellectually Disabled Athletes
- Rendering assistance to physically and intellectually disabled athletes is permitted.
- Specific exceptions shall be determined by the referee.
WOWSA 7.20 – Fuel, Hydration, and Medication
- Athletes may take any form of fuel, hydration, medication, or sustenance during the event as long as it does not include alcohol or drugs on the United States Anti-Drug Testing Agency (USADA) or World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned lists.
WOWSA 7.21 – Compliance with USADA and WADA Guidelines
- Open water events should respect the guidelines, recommendations, and rules outlined by USADA and WADA unless there is an athlete with a previously documented medical exception
WOWSA 7.22 – Displaying Event Number
- All athletes should have their event number clearly displayed at least on one part of their body (upper back, arms, or back of hands) or on their swim cap at the start of the event
WOWSA 7.23 – Timing System
- A suitable timing system shall be decided by the Referee
- Open water events are strongly encouraged to use transponders or timing chips attached to an athlete’s ankles or wrists
WOWSA 7.24 – Time Limits
- The Referee shall determine all time limits for each race
- If athletes do not complete the event within the predetermined time, the referee may pull the athlete from the water or allow them to continue to the finish
WOWSA 7.25 – Did Not Finish (DNF)
- If the athlete is pulled from the water voluntarily or involuntarily, they should receive the DNF (Did Not Finish) designation
WOWSA 7.26 – Over Time Limit (OTL)
- If the athlete does not complete the event within the time limit but is allowed to finish by the referee, they should receive an OTL (Over Time Limit) designation
WOWSA 7.27 – Emergency Abandonment
- In cases of emergency, abandonment of the event, or portions of the race, the race results should be calculated based on the final position in the water
- The athlete who has swum the longest distance should be deemed the winner, followed by the second longest distance, and so on
WOWSA 7.28 – Answering Questions
- Athletes should answer all questions from the referee, safety officer, or other officials on the course during the race
- If questions cannot be answered or are answered in a slurred manner indicating physical problems, the athlete should be pulled from the event for safety reasons.
WOWSA 7.29 – Transponders or Timing Chips
- If transponders or timing chips are used, all athletes must wear them on the wrist or ankle throughout the race
- If an athlete loses a transponder, the referee should determine a means to either provide a replacement chip or capture the athlete’s time and placing without the transponder
WOWSA 7.30 – Liability Insurance
- It is advised for all events to obtain liability insurance coverage
WOWSA 8.0 – The Finish #
WOWSA 8.1 – Escort Boats and Support Craft
- The escort boats, kayaks, paddle boards and stand-up paddle boards should follow all instructions given by the Referee when approaching the finish area
WOWSA 8.2 – Finish Locations
- Finishes shall be clearly explained to athletes and can be located on the water between two points, at a finish pontoon, on the shoreline, or on land
WOWSA 8.3 – Assistance at the Finish
- Upon clearing the water, some athletes may require assistance
- Athletes may receive assistance as necessary if they display a need, are disabled, or ask for assistance
WOWSA 8.4 – Result Tabulation
- Individual and relay results shall be tabulated electronically by gender and age group in order of finish
WOWSA 8.5 – Split Times
- In addition to the final time for each athlete or relay, WOWSA encourages the Race Director to take split times when possible
WOWSA 9.0 – Adjudication of Rules #
WOWSA 9.1 – Referee Positioning
- The Referee should position him or herself in a watercraft as close to the lead pack as safely possible
- The Referee should strive to maintain visibility of the athletes in the lead pack throughout the race
- If the lead males and lead females have separated, the Referee should assign an Assistant Referee or designee to oversee the following packs
WOWSA 9.2 – Enforcement of Rules
- The Referee and their designees should ensure compliance with the event rules at all times
- Violations of the rules shall be recorded in writing as soon as possible
WOWSA 9.3 – Power of the Referee
- The Referee and their designees should have the authority to order an athlete out of the water in cases of disqualification, imminent safety concerns (e.g., darkness, lightning, marine life), or expiration of any time limit
WOWSA 9.4 – Fair Play
- The Referee and their designees should ensure that athletes do not gain unfair advantage or engage in unsportsmanlike conduct towards other athletes
WOWSA 9.5 – Visual Confirmation
- The Referee and their designees should position themselves to visually confirm the position and conduct of all athletes
WOWSA 9.6 – Record Keeping
- The Referee and their designees should record any rule infringements on the official record sheets
WOWSA 9.7 – Disqualification Procedure
WOWSA 9.7.1 – Violation and Contact
- If, in the opinion of the Referee, any athlete, approved representative, or escort boat voilates the rules by intentionally making contact with another athlete, the following procedures apply:
WOWSA 9.7.2 – First Infringement
- A yellow flag and a card with the athlete’s number should be raised by the Referee indicating the rule violation
- The Referee shoulld hold up the card with the athlete’s number for at least 30 seconds in proximity to the athlete
- The athlete should be responsible for being aware of the warning
WOWSA 9.7.3 – Second Infringement
- Upon a second rule infringement, a red flag and a card with the athlete’s number should be raised by the Referee
- The athlete should be immediately disqualified
- The athlete should immediately leave the water, be placed in an escort boat, and should not be allowed to continue the race
WOWSA 9.7.4 – Unsportsmanlike Conduct
- If, in the opinion of the Referee, an athlete, escort boat crew, or approved representative’s action is deemed unsportsmanlike, the Referee should disqualify the athlete involved
- Unsportsmanlike conduct includes actions such as punching, elbowing, pulling back another athlete, scratching, veering another athlete off-course, or disregarding Referee warnings
Marathon Swimming #
Open water marathon swims are special distance challenges longer than 10 kilometers. Marathon swims are distinct from races, as they are typically done by an individual or relay without simultaneous competition. Many still race the clock for a competitive time and many more are simply drawn to the journey and satisfaction of completion.
WOWSA 1.0 – General Rules:
1.2 Marathon Swims
- Marathon swims should be from shore to shore
- Athletes start and finish on land with no body of water behind
- The land must be part of a naturally occurring contiguous part of the shore
- And a swimmer must reach the end shore without being touched or having their weight supported by any natural or man-made objects.
1.3 Swim Aids:
- Athletes shall use no swim aids other than specified gear
- Permitted swim gear includes goggles, ear plugs, one non-neoprene, non-bubble swim cap, one porous, non-neoprene swimsuit, and illumination for night swims
- Flotation devices, propulsive aids, protective swimwear, or full-length swimwear are not permitted
1.4 Swimsuit Regulations:
- Swimsuits shall not go beyond the knees for men or past the shoulders for women (see section WOWSA 3.11 – Unassisted Swimwear)
1.6 Observer Report:
- The WOWSA Observer Report must be completely filled in for verification purposes
- Applies to both solo swims and relays
1.8 Swim Timing:
- The timing of the swim shall be from the moment a start is indicated (by voice, whistle, or air horn) until the time the athlete clears the water at the designated finish at a natural occuring shore
1.9 Observer Responsibilities:
- The Observer is responsible for the timing of the swim and for the interpretation and enforcement of the rules
- The Observer has the right to cancel the swim in adverse conditions or in cases where there is physical danger to the health and well-being of the athlete or crew
1.10 Permission for Crossings:
- Pilots, navigators, and crew must receive permission from the local governing authority (e.g., Coast Guard)
1.11 Age Restrictions:
- WOWSA does not recognize solo marathon swims by athletes under the age of 14
1.13 Substance Restrictions:
- No alcoholic beverages, stimulants, or drugs that are on the United States Anti-Drug Agency or World Anti-Drug Agency list shall be consumed by the athlete during the swim or 12 hours before the swim start
- No alcoholic beverages or narcotic drugs shall be consumed by the Observer, boat crew member, or anyone associated with the swim from dock to dock
1.14 Swim Ratification:
- WOWSA will not ratify a swim if any of the rules are not followed
1.15 Uncovered Situations:
- If any situation arises which is not covered by the current WOWSA rules, the Channel Swimming Association rules shall be referenced and followed.
- In all cases, WOWSA shall retain the right to interpret its rules relative to the athlete’s actions.
WOWSA 2.0 – Local Governing Body Rules #
WOWSA acknowledges and respects the authority of local governing bodies in establishing rules and regulations to ensure safety and fairness in their specific local waterways.
WOWSA 2.1: Deference to Local Governing Body Rules
WOWSA defers to the rules of local governing bodies as they are responsible for establishing safety and fairness to address the unique characteristics of their local waterways.
WOWSA 2.2: Non-Duplication of Ratification Process
WOWSA does not duplicate the ratification process for swims that have already been ratified by local governing bodies. The ratification process conducted by the local governing body is recognized and accepted by WOWSA.
WOWSA 3.0 – Marathon Swims Categories #
WOWSA 3.1 – Unassisted Rules and Regulations:
- Nonstop swim without intentional physical contact with support vessels or support staff or objects.
- As long as the swimmer is not touched, the swimmer is permitted to receive support from an escort boat, crew, paddlers, or observers throughout the duration of the swim.
- Minimal equipment is allowed for unassisted swims, including goggles, earplugs, one non-neoprene swim cap, non-neoprene swimsuit, and illumination for night swims.
- Swimsuits must adhere to the rule that they should not extend beyond the knee or shoulders.
WOWSA 3.11 – Unassisted Swimwear
Traditional textile jammer from the waist to knee (men), made of knit (not woven) materials, with sewn (not bonded or taped) seams, and without hydrophobic coating
Textile shoulders to knees (woman), made of knit (not woven) materials, with sewn (not bonded or taped) seams, and without hydrophobic coating
WOWSA 3.2 – Assisted Rules and Regulations:
Wetsuit swims are accepted as a form of assisted swimming. However, any other devices or nonstandard equipment used in swims must be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis by the rules and regulations advisory board.
Nonstandard equipment examples
- Hand paddles
- Shark cages
- Buoyancy devices
- Protective swimwear
- Jellyfish nets
- Waterproof audio devices
Swimmers are required to declare the use of nonstandard equipment in their swim rules prior to the swim and also in their swim post-swim documentation.
WOWSA 3.2.1 – Assisted Swimwear
Tech suit from waist to knees (men)
Jammer tech suit from waist to knees (men), made of woven (not knit), water permeable fabric and using bonded or taped seams (not sewn) and treated with a hydrophobic coating.
Tech suit pants from waist to ankle (men)
Tech suit pants from waist to ankle (men), made of woven (not knit), water permeable fabric and using bonded or taped seams (not sewn) and treated with a hydrophobic coating.
Tech suit from shoulder to knee (men/women)
Tech suit from shoulder to knee (men/women), made of woven (not knit), water permeable fabric and using bonded or taped seams (not sewn) and treated with a hydrophobic coating.
Tech suit from shoulder to ankle (men/women)
Tech suit from shoulder to ankle (men/women), made of woven (not knit), water permeable fabric and using bonded or taped seams (not sewn) and treated with a hydrophobic coating.
Stinger suit – wrist to ankle body suit
Stinger suit – wrist to ankle body suit – knit (not woven) stinger suit made of water permeable materials.
Insulating buoyant neoprene.
WOWSA 3.3 – Current Neutral Rules and Regulations:
“Current neutral refers to the state in open-water swimming where the impact of currents on the swimmer’s progress is minimal or balanced, allowing for a fair assessment of the swimmer’s performance.”
WOWSA 3.4 – Current Assisted Rules and Regulations:
Current assisted refers to the state in open-water swimming where the swimmer’s progress is significantly aided or hindered by the presence of currents, resulting in an observable impact on their performance.
WOWSA 4.0 – Swim Types
WOWSA 4.1 – One-Way Solo Marathon Swim (Point A to Point B)
- Declaration of Swim Rules: Swim Rules must be declared by the observer before the swim begins
- Start and Finish: The swim starts when the swimmer enters the water from a natural shore and finishes when the swimmer clears the water on a natural shore
- No Supportive Contact: No intentional supportive contact with vessels, objects, or support personnel is allowed
- Drafting Restrictions: Intentional drafting behind escort vessels is not allowed, but swimming alongside is permitted
- Support Swimmers: Support swimmers can swim alongside the solo swimmer for 1 hour at a time, with 1 hour intervals between support swims. During the support swim, intentional physical contact between the support swimmer and the solo swimmer is not allowed. The second swimmer can swim alongside the solo swimmer but should not be positioned ahead of them.
- Observer and Pilot Roles: The observer documents the swim, interprets and enforces the rules, and keeps official time, while the pilot of the escort vessel holds authority in all other matters and can cancel the swim for safety reasons.
WOWSA 4.2 – Solo Multi-Leg Marathon Swim
A multi-leg swim can be conducted in a lake, river, sea, or ocean, reaching one or more intermediate destinations (shores) before the final destination.(i.e. two-way (“double”) channel crossing – a swim from one shore to a different, non-contiguous shore, and then returning to the first shore or swim from Island A to Island B to Island C is also a multi-leg swim)
Specific Rules for Multi-Leg Swims:
- Distance: The total cumulative distance must be no less than 25 kilometers.
- Timing:Timing begins when the swimmer enters the water and the timing stops when the swimmer finishes each leg. Subsequent legs start from the exact GPS point recorded at the end of the previous stage
- Resting Period: After finishing one leg of the swim, the swimmer may rest for up to 10 minutes before beginning the next leg. During the rest period, the swimmer may be supported by a natural land mass but not by people or artificial flotation devices.
WOWSA 4.3 – Solo Circumnavigation Marathon Swim
A circumnavigation swim is a swim around an island or group of islands.
- Swim Start: The swim begins when the swimmer enters the water from the island’s shore. If there is no beach, the swimmer may begin by touching and releasing from part of the island’s shore.
- Swim Finish: The swim finishes when the swimmer completes a full loop around the island, following the shortest tangents, and then clears the water beyond the starting point. If there is no beach, the swimmer may touch the island’s shore beyond the starting point.
- Measurement: The total distance of the circumnavigation swim is calculated by adding the shortest tangents around the island.
Note: If access to the island is restricted, the swimmer may start and finish offshore. In such cases, the swimmer must “close the loop” by swimming beyond the starting point, as measured by GPS.
WOWSA 4.4 – Solo Stage Marathon Swims
A stage swim consists of multiple stages, where the swimmer rests on shore or on an escort vessel between stages.
- Stage Start and Finish: Each stage should begin at or behind the finish location of the previous stage. If resting in open water, GPS coordinates of stage start and finish locations must be recorded by the observer
- Variability: Stage swims can be conducted in various bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, seas, or oceans, and can be swum as a solo, relay, or race. Each stage can differ in location, distance, and body of water, with no minimum distance requirement for each stage
- Timing and Rest: Stage swims can be timed events, spanning more than one day. The time between the end of one stage and the start of the next should not exceed 48 hours, except for stage swims lasting over one week, where the time should be 72 hours
- Measurement: Stage swims are measured by the shortest straight-line tangent distance between the start and finish points.
- Conclusion: The conclusion of a stage swim may occur at the same or different location than the start, either in the water or on land.
- Total Cumulative Time: The total cumulative time is the actual time spent in the water, measured in hours, minutes, and seconds.
WOWSA 4.4 – Relays*
A relay swim is a swim undertaken by a team of two or more swimmers, swimming in successive turns of a fixed time interval, in a fixed order.
- Team Composition and Duration: The team has the flexibility to choose the number of swimmers and the interval turn. Multiple cycles of full swimmer rotations can be swum per day, and the event can span more than one day.
- Athlete Dropout and Continuation: If an athlete drops out, they have the option to return at a later time, and the team may choose to continue without the retired swimmer.
- Swimmer Exchange: The swimmer exchange occurs in the water, with the new swimmer approaching the previous swimmer from behind. The swimmers are allowed five minutes to complete the exchange, starting from the scheduled exchange time.
- Fixed Elements: The relay team must establish and maintain a fixed team roster, order, and interval throughout the swim.
WOWSA 5.0 – Equipment #
WOWSA 5.1 Performance enhancing (still under development)
Defining performance-enhancing equipment as items that directly enhance a swimmer’s speed, buoyancy, or endurance beyond natural abilities.
Performance-Enhancing Swimsuit Design:
- Swimsuit that reaches above the knees (for men) and/or is considered a tech suit
- Description: Advanced materials and streamlined design of tech suits reduce drag, enhancing speed and hydrodynamics
Technical Swimwear with Increased Coverage:
- Swimwear with increased coverage (excluding men’s jammers and women’s FINA-approved swimwear)
- Description: Additional insulation, protection, and improved hydrodynamics may contribute to enhanced performance
Equipment for Heat Retention and Warmth:
- Wetsuits, neoprene caps, booties, and gloves
- Description: Helps maintain body warmth in cold water, improving comfort, reducing heat loss, and potentially enhancing endurance
Equipment for Increased Speed:
- Fins, paddles, and shark cages
- Description: Fins and paddles provide additional propulsion, while shark cages reduce drag, potentially increasing speed
Equipment for Increased Buoyancy:
- Pull buoys and wetsuits
- Description: Buoyancy aids in maintaining proper body position, reducing drag, and potentially improving efficiency and speed
Underwater Swim Streamers:
- Description: Visual markers assisting with navigation and course straightness, potentially improving efficiency and reducing distance swum
Underwater Auditory Equipment:
- Waterproof MP3 players or auditory devices
- Description: Entertainment and pacing cues aid in maintaining rhythm, focus, and potentially enhancing performance
Wearable Electronic Devices:
- Devices transmitting real-time information to swimmers
- Description: Data on speed, distance, heart rate, etc., helps monitor and optimize technique, pacing, and performance
- Substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency List of Prohibited Substances
- Description: Use can provide physiological advantages, such as increased endurance, reduced fatigue, improved recovery, and enhanced strength, leading to improved performance
WOWSA 5.2 Non-Performance enhancing (still under development)
Items like stinger suits or rash guards primarily as non-performance enhancing due to their primary purpose of providing protection rather than enhancing performance.
- Stinger Suits and Rash Guards: These items primarily offer protection against stings, irritations, or sun exposure, serving a functional purpose rather than directly enhancing performance
- Wildlife Deterrents: Products such as Shark Shields, shark divers, jellyfish sweepers, anti-venom ointment, stinger suits, and rash guards are designed to mitigate potential risks or hazards associated with marine life encounters, prioritizing safety rather than performance enhancement
- Wearable Electronic Devices for Data Logging: Devices that solely log data without transmitting it to the swimmer do not actively provide real-time information or immediate performance benefits during the swim. They serve the purpose of collecting data for later analysis or tracking purposes
WOWSA 6.0 – Route Types #
WOWSA adheres to route types as presented by the Marathon Swimmers Federation. Routes with no previous records need approval and planning.
For your reference:
WOWSA 7.0 – Records #
WOWSA agrees on the importance of categorizing swims based on the equipment used (assisted/unassisted) and the body of water (lake, river, ocean, canal). We also endorse the classification of swims as either current assisted or current neutral. (Current neutral categorization was developed by the Marathon Swimmers Federation.)
WOWSA 7.1 – Records for Unassisted Swims
These records for unassisted swims are maintained by MSF
List of records for unassisted swims on MSF
Longest Swims and Longest Swims by Duration
- Longest unassisted continuous ocean swim distance (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted continuous river swim distance (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted continuous ocean swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted continuous river swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted continuous ocean swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted continuous lake swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted continuous ocean swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted continuous lake swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment ocean swim distance (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment ocean swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment ocean swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment lake swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment river swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment ocean swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment lake swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted multi-segment river swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest unassisted single island circumnavigation distance
- Longest unassisted single island circumnavigation duration
- Longest unassisted multi-loop island circumnavigation distance
- Longest unassisted multi-loop island circumnavigation duration
WOWSA 7.2 – Records for Assisted Swims
Longest Swims and Longest Swims by Duration
- Longest assisted continuous ocean swim distance (surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted continuous river swim distance(surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted continuous ocean swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted continuous river swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted continuous ocean swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest assisted continuous lake swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest assisted continuous ocean swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest assisted continuous lake swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment ocean swim distance (surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted multi-segment ocean swim duration (surface current assisted)
- Longest assisted multi-segment ocean swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment lake swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment river swim distance (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment ocean swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment lake swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest assisted multi-segment river swim duration (current neutral)
- Longest assisted single island circumnavigation distance
- Longest assisted single island circumnavigation duration
- Longest assisted multi-loop island circumnavigation distance
- Longest assisted multi-loop island circumnavigation duration
WOWSA 7.3 – Fastest and Firsts Course Records
Major world solo marathon swimming course-specific records remain within the control of individual local governing bodies.
WOWSA 8.0 – Observer, Pilot and Crew Roles and Responsibilities #
- The observer is responsible for impartially observing the swim and documenting key details.
- The navigator/pilot/kayaker charts the course and ensures the swimmer stays on the designated path.
- The crew’s primary role is to feed the swimmer during the swim.
WOWSA 8.1 – Assignment of Roles
- The allocation of roles should prioritize safety and common sense.
- If a third person is available, each role should be given primary attention by the individual performing it.
- The roles of observer, navigator/pilot/kayaker, and crew should be performed by different individuals to ensure safety and prevent conflicts of interest.
- It is unsafe for the navigator/pilot/kayaker to also act as the official observer.
- The official observer should be an independent and impartial witness to the swim.
- The observer should not be directly involved in other aspects of the swim, such as navigating or feeding the swimmer.
WOWSA 8.2 – Qualifications of Observers
- Formal qualifications or previous experience are not always required for observers.
- Observers are required to pay attention to detail, capability to complete documentation requirements, impartiality, and understanding of marathon swimming rules.
- Trained and experienced independent observers are recommended for high-profile swims or significant record attempts.
- It is not advisable to have a close relative (e.g., a spouse or parent) as the observer due to the appearance of bias.
- If a trained/experienced observer or well-known marathon swimmer is not available, the swim documentation needs to be very detailed.
WOWSA 8.3 – Observer Responsibilities
The observer’s primary responsibility is to act as an independent and impartial witness to the swim, providing an accurate account of the swimmer’s progress and any relevant observations.
The below observations must be at least hourly and timestamped.
- Start and Finish coordinates
- Actual Time
- Swim Time (hours, minutes, seconds)
- Air Temperature
- Water Temperature
- Wind Speed
- Swimmer’s Mental and Physical Conditions
- Stroke Rate (per minute)
- Feedings (time, what the swimmer consumed)
WOWSA 8.31 – Coordinates Format
- DMS Format: 37° 46′ 15″ N, 122° 25′ 9″ W
- DDM Format: 37° 46.250′ N, 122° 25.150′ W
- DD Format: 37.7708° N, -122.4192° W
WOWSA 8.32 – Time Format
- Record the date, time of day, and time zone. AM/PM or Military format preferred.
- Time is represented using two digits for the hours (ranging from 00 to 23), followed by two digits for the minutes and two digits for the seconds (both ranging from 00 to 59), separated by colons.
- For example, 09:15:30 represents 9 hours, 15 minutes, and 30 seconds in the military format.
WOWSA 8.33 – Air Temperature
Waterproof thermometer. General Weather data (e.g., NOAA, Windfinder).
WOWSA 8.34 – Water Temperature
A professional waterproof thermometer thermometer with a reliable accuracy of +/-0.1°C is recommended. Please indicate if the temperature reading is in Fahrenheit (°F) or Celsius (°C).
WOWSA 8.35 – Wind Speed & Wind Direction
Wind speed can be visually estimated from water surface conditions.
Beaufort Number — Sea Conditions (wave height in meters):
- 0 – Flat (0 meters).
- 1 – Ripples without crests (0.1 meters).
- 2 – Small wavelets. Light breeze. Crests not breaking (0.2 meters)
- 3 – Large wavelets. Crests begin to break. Scattered whitecaps (0.6 meters)
- 4 – Small waves. Moderate breeze (1 meter)
- 5 – Moderate longer waves. Some foam and spray (2 meters)
- 6 – Large waves with foam crests and some spray. Strong breeze (3 meters)
- 7 – Sea heaps up and foam begins to streak. Moderate gale (4 meters)
- 8 – Moderately high waves with breaking crests (5.5 meters)
- 9 – High waves (6-7 m) with dense foam. Strong gale (7 meters)
- 10 – Very high waves. Visibility is reduced. Sea surface is white (9 meters)
- 11 – Exceptionally high waves. Violent storm (11.5 meters)
- 12 – Huge waves. Air filled with foam and spray. Hurricane (14+ meters)
Anemometer to measure wind speed
The units of measurement can vary depending on the model and settings, such as knots (kt), miles per hour (mph), kilometers per hour (km/h), or Beaufort Force.
Use cardinal and intermediate directions: The wind direction is commonly described using cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) and intermediate directions (northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest). Here are the corresponding wind directions:
- North (N): Wind coming from the north
- South (S): Wind coming from the south
- East (E): Wind coming from the east
- West (W): Wind coming from the west
- Northeast (NE): Wind coming from the northeast
- Southeast (SE): Wind coming from the southeast
- Southwest (SW): Wind coming from the southwest
- Northwest (NW): Wind coming from the northwest
Use wind vane, telltales, anemometers or wind sensors
WOWSA 8.36 – Stroke Rate
Strokes per minute
WOWSA 8.37 – Feedings
Provide a brief description of the nutrition or feeding plan, including the specific products utilized and the frequency of feeding.
WOWSA 8.38 – Swimmer’s Mental and Physical Conditions
Provide a brief description of the swimmer’s physical and mental state.
WOWSA 8.4 – Documentation Requirements
The structure and presentation of this swim report was directly inspired by the format established by MSF Documented Swims, and specifically the report on Sarah Thomas’ 104.6 mile Lake Champlain swim, authored by Evan Morrison and Elaine Kornbau Howley.
- Observer log
- Complete GPS track in GPX format. To maintain the raw format, export the GPX file directly from your device without making any modifications and provide the original file in its unaltered format. Use 2 or more trackers in case one fails.
- One photo per hour of swimming, including the start and finish.
- Video showing the swimmer’s stroke (1 minute of video) if the observer is inexperienced or untrained (1 minute per hour).
- Narrative report.
- Complete report (see here).
WOWSA 8.5 – Observer Logs
- Handwritten observer logs (need to be scanned or photographed).
- Observer logs need to be transcribed digitally.
- WOWSA will provide a link to an app for offline data entry, but it is suggested to have backup handwritten logs. These devices may have limitations and can fail during the swim, so they should be supplemented with a thorough observer’s report.
- Both the handwritten log and a digital transcription should be submitted.
Additional Guidelines and Rules #
WOWSA 1.0: Blind Swimmers #
WOWSA 1.1: Participation of Blind Swimmers
WOWSA open water swimming events encourage and support blind swimmers to participate. Blind swimmers are allowed three general exceptions to the solo swims performed by open water swimmers with sight:
- Tethered Swimmers: Blind swimmers can be tethered together in some fashion to another swimmer throughout their swim for guidance.
- Guided Swimmers: Blind swimmers can be led by swimmers who allow them to tap on their feet or other parts of their body for guidance.
- Escort Assistance: Blind swimmers can be escorted by kayakers, paddlers, or crew on an escort boat who blow whistles for guidance (e.g., one whistle for “go left” and two whistles for “go right”).
WOWSA 2.0: Butterfly Swims #
WOWSA 2.1: Definition of Butterfly Swim
While open water swims are overwhelmingly completed using freestyle, a small number of athletes attempt and complete open water swims, including marathon swims and channel swims, using the butterfly stroke. In order for a swim to be considered a Butterfly Swim, the entire distance must be swum butterfly according to the following rules:
WOWSA 2.2: Body Position
From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start (either from shore or in the water) to the finish of the swim (either onshore or in the water), the body must be kept on the stomach. The athlete is not permitted to roll onto their back at any time or perform any freestyle arm strokes, leg kicks, breaststroke arm strokes, sidestroke, or any other stroke. A swimmer is allowed to stop swimming in shallow water as they approach the shoreline and walk up on shore to clear the water, similar to what an athlete swimming freestyle would do.
WOWSA 2.3: Voluntary Stops
The athlete can stop swimming butterfly only during voluntary stops or feeding stops. During stops of any kind, the athlete must stay in the same spot and can tread water to rest or consume fuel (food) or hydration (drink). They can stretch their arms, body, neck, back, or legs, but they must remain in the same location.
WOWSA 2:4: Arm Movement
To qualify as a Butterfly Swim, both arms must be brought forward together over the water and brought backward simultaneously throughout the swim. The only acceptable exception to this rule is when a large wave, whitecaps, or a boat wake prevents one or both arms from being brought forward simultaneously. In this case, the next arm stroke must continue to be brought forward together simultaneously.
WOWSA 2.5: Breathing
Breathing in a Butterfly Swim can be done forward or to either side of the body.
WOWSA 2.6: Leg Movement
All up and down movements of the legs and feet must be simultaneous. The position of the legs or feet need not be on the same level, but they shall not alternate in relation to one another. The breaststroke or whip kick may not be used exclusively or interchangeably with the dolphin kick while doing the butterfly stroke at any time during the race.
WOWSA 2.7: Non-Adherence to Rules
If the above rules are not adhered to, the swim will be defined as a standard (i.e., freestyle) swim.
WOWSA 3.0: Backstroke Swims #
WOWSA 3.1: Definition of Backstroke Swim
While open water swims are overwhelmingly completed using freestyle, a small number of athletes attempt and complete open water swims, including marathon swims and channel swims, using the backstroke. In order for a swim to be considered a Backstroke Swim, the entire distance must be swum backstroke according to the following rules:
WOWSA 3.2: Body Position
From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start (either from shore or in the water) to the finish of the swim (either onshore or in the water), the body must be kept on the back to qualify as a Backstroke Swim. The athlete is not permitted to roll onto the stomach at any time or perform any freestyle arm strokes, leg kicks, breaststroke arm strokes, sidestroke, or any other stroke. A swimmer is allowed to stop swimming in shallow water as they approach the shoreline and walk up on shore to clear the water, similar to what an athlete swimming freestyle would do. However, if the finish is in the water, a swimmer must touch the finish pontoon or pad with their hand while remaining on their back.
WOWSA 3.3: Body Roll
The normal position on the back can include a roll movement of the body up to, but not including 90° from horizontal. The position of the head is not relevant.
WOWSA 3.4: Kicking
Kicking may be done in any fashion as long as the athlete remains on their back during the swim.
WOWSA 3.5: Voluntary Stops
The athlete can stop swimming backstroke only during voluntary stops or feeding stops. During stops of any kind, the athlete must stay in the same spot and can tread water to rest or consume fuel (food) or hydration (drink). They can stretch their arms, body, back, neck, or legs, but they must remain in the same location.
WOWSA 3.6: Exceptions
The exception to the WOWSA 11.5 rule above is when a wave or wake crashes unexpectedly over the athlete, causing them to choke and/or swallow water. They can stop in this case and fix their goggles or catch their breath as long as they do not swim forward on their stomach or use any stroke other than backstroke.
WOWSA 3.7: Non-Adherence to Rules
If the above rules are not adhered to, the swim will be defined as a standard (i.e., freestyle) swim.
WOWSA 4.0: Breaststroke Swims #
WOWSA 41: Definition of Breaststroke Swim
While open water swims are overwhelmingly completed using freestyle, a small number of athletes attempt and complete open water swims, including marathon swims and channel swims, using breaststroke. In order for a swim to be considered a Breaststroke Swim, the entire distance must be swum breaststroke according to the following rules:
WOWSA 4.2: Body Position
From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start (either from shore or in the water) to the finish of the swim (either onshore or in the water), the body must be kept on the stomach to qualify as a Breaststroke Swim. The athlete is not permitted to roll onto their back at any time or perform any freestyle arm strokes, leg kicks, sidestroke, or any other stroke. A swimmer is allowed to stop swimming in shallow water as they approach the shoreline and walk up on shore to clear the water, similar to what an athlete swimming freestyle would do. However, if the finish is in the water, a swimmer must simultaneously touch the finish pontoon or pad with two hands, although they can be in a different plane.
WOWSA 4.3: Stroke Cycle
From the start to the finish, the stroke cycle must consist of one arm stroke and one leg kick in that order. All movements of the arms must be simultaneous and on the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
WOWSA 4.4: Arm Movement
The hands must be pushed forward together from the breast on, under, or over the water. The elbows must be under the water, and the hands must be brought back on or under the surface of the water. The hands must not be brought back beyond the hip line.
WOWSA 4.5: Head Break
During each complete stroke cycle, some part of the athlete’s head must break the surface of the water unless a wave or wake prevents this action.
WOWSA 4.6: Leg Movement
All movements of the legs must be simultaneous and on the same horizontal plane without alternating movement. The feet must be turned outward during the propulsive part of the kick. A scissors kick, flutter kick, or downward butterfly kick is not permitted.
WOWSA 4.7: Voluntary Stops
The athlete can stop swimming breaststroke only during voluntary stops or feeding stops. During stops of any kind, the athlete must stay in the same spot and can tread water to rest or consume fuel (food) or hydration (drink). They can stretch their arms, body, back, neck, or legs, but they must remain in the same location.
WOWSA 4.8: Non-Adherence to Rules
If the above rules are not adhered to, the swim will be defined as a standard (i.e., freestyle) swim.
WOWSA 5.0: Miscellaneous #
WOWSA 5.1 – Contiguous Solo Crossing Relays
- Contiguous Solo Crossing Relays are swimming events where a number of athletes completes consecutive point-to-point solo swims or circumnavigations of any duration, length, or type in an open body of water
- Each swimmer starts after being touched on land by the previous swimmer who has cleared the water
- Each swim by the individual swimmers is called a Leg of the Contiguous Solo Crossing Relay
- Each swimmer must start and finish on land
- Each swimmer is referred to in numerical order, with Swimmer #1 being the first swimmer to begin the Contiguous Solo Crossing Relay, and Swimmer #2, Swimmer #3, and so on, following until the last swimmer completes the final Leg
WOWSA 5.2 – Number of Athletes and Venue of Contiguous Solo Crossing Relays
- The number of athletes in a Contiguous Solo Crossing Relay must be at least two, but can number as many as desired
- The venue can be an ocean, sea, lake, river, channel, canal, fjord, lagoon, estuary, bay, reservoir, dam, lido, rowing basin, or any man-made or natural body of water.
- The athletes must follow the traditional rules that govern their chosen body of water or competition if there is a recognized body that oversees swims in the area (e.g., Channel Swimming Federation or Catalina Channel & Swimming Federation, etc.).
WOWSA 5.3 – Point-to-Point and Circumnavigation in Contiguous Solo Crossing Relays
- For a point-to-point Contiguous Solo Crossing Relay to be recognized, each athlete must cross the body of water, touch the intended terrestrial finish point, clear the water under their own power, and then immediately touch the next swimmer to begin the next Leg
- For a circumnavigation of an island or Contiguous Solo Perimeter Swim around the perimeter of a lake, each athlete must completely swim around the course, touch the intended terrestrial finish point, clear the water under his/her own power, and then immediately touch the next swimmer to begin the next Leg.
WOWSA 5.4 – Ice Swims
- For Ice Swims, WOWSA follows the rules and procedures of the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA).
WOWSA 5.5 – Open Water Medley Swim
- In an open water medley swim, the athlete shall cover the four standard swimming strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
- Each of the strokes must cover one quarter of the total distance.
WOWSA 6.0 – MSF Rules #
WOWSA supports and recognizes the Rules of Marathon Swimming as defined by the Marathon Swimmers Federation for those swimmers who wish to follow its guidelines in ungoverned swims. However, the rules, guidelines and traditions of existing and future local governing bodies are respected by WOWSA.
WOWSA 7.0 – Wetsuit Recommendations #
For non-marathon swimmers and swimmers without extensive cold-acclimation training, WOWSA incorporates the USA Triathlon recommendations on use of wetsuits in open water swims.
The matrix below includes the range of water temperatures and conditions recommended to swimmers and Race Directors.
WOWSA 1.0 – Minimizing Plastic Footprint Guidelines for Event Organizers #
Commitment to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Plastics:
- Make a commitment to reduce, reuse, and recycle all plastics
- Create a waste management/recycling committee to foster partnerships and environmentally friendly initiatives among stakeholders
- Educate volunteers about efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle
- Publicize the commitment to participants and encourage their help
Consideration of Plastic Use:
- Assess all situations where plastic is provided, including items for athletes, officials, organizers, and spectators
- Evaluate both free and sold items, drinks, food, prizes, and event equipment/gear
- Explore the possibility of replacing or substituting plastic items with more sustainable alternatives
- Encourage athletes to bring their own reusable bottles
- Utilize powdered form for flavored drinks or provide water via dispensers
- Replace plastic cutlery with sustainable wooden chopsticks or washable cutlery and plates
- Supply utensils and equipment without individual plastic wrapping
Favorable Plastics and Recycling:
- Opt for plastics with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content
- Use biodegradable plastics (preferably not derived from food-related crops) with proper composting infrastructure
- Choose types of plastic that are readily recyclable in your area
Organized Collection of Plastic Waste:
- Clearly designate areas for disposal of plastic waste.
- Ensure collection points are conveniently located, such as bottle caps near the start and bottles on the course
- Consider employing teams of people in branded uniforms to collect waste, which can generate positive PR for the event.
Collaboration with Waste Management and Recycling Services:
- Align your plan with local waste management and recycling programs
- Estimate the amount of waste generated, specifically plastic waste
- Determine if waste management and recycling services already collect at your location and coordinate with them
- Understand their collection and recycling requirements, including the sorting of materials
- Inquire about data on the amount of recycled materials
WOWSA Scorecard for Minimizing Plastic Footprint
Additionally, WOWSA provides a scorecard to evaluate an event’s progress in minimizing its plastic footprint. The scorecard assesses various aspects, such as:
- Distribution of single-serve PET bottles
- Plastic cups and containers
- Styrofoam usage
- Food/feeding stations
- Waste collection
- Post-race waste collection
Events that score nine points or lower qualify for certification as a PDP (Plastic Disclosure Project) Sport event.
Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP)
The Plastic Disclosure Project, in collaboration with WOWSA, aims to introduce innovative projects and initiatives to improve the ocean and open water environment. The project focuses on measuring and managing plastic use and waste through metrics and encourages improvements in waste reduction, recycling, recycled content, design, and the use of new materials.
ISO 20121:2012 Event Sustainability Management Systems
ISO 20121:2012 is a standard that specifies requirements for event sustainability management systems. It provides guidance for planning and processes to identify and minimize negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of events while maximizing positive impacts. ISO 20121 was developed following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
WOWSA 1.0 – Code of Conduct for Coaches & Organizers #
To maintain positive and safe experiences that lead to the growth of open water swimming, coaches, event organizers, officials, pilots, volunteers, or anyone involved in organizing training or competition in open water agree to maintain a basic standard of ethics and safety as documented below.
WOWSA reserves the right to revoke coaching or event certification, membership, and any other formal or informal affiliation for not abiding by the following code of conduct.
Education & Competence
- Coaches and organizers should continually educate themselves on the latest best practices in safety, strategy, and technical know-how
- Coaches and organizers should avoid using methods that pose a risk to the health and safety of swimmers
- Coaches and organizers agree to be fair to swimmers and provide each athlete with the same opportunities
- Coaches and organizers should show no favoritism to one swimmer over another and should teach swimmers to practice fair-play towards their fellow swimmers
- Coaches and organizers should refrain from using any unfair or illegal training methods, including performance-enhancing drugs
- Coaches and organizers should refrain from allowing any form of bribery towards themselves or their swimmers
- Coaches and organizers should show respect towards others, the sport, the organization, and property
- Respect towards others means showing tolerance and treating everyone equally, regardless of their sex, age, race, language, socioeconomic status, ethnic origin, disability, or religion, while respecting their rights and dignity
- Coaches and organizers should respect the privacy of swimmers and avoid any form of harassment (sex, gender, disability) towards swimmers
- Coaches and organizers should be people of integrity, adhering to their personal values in word and action at all times
- Coaches and organizers should not accept bribes and actively discourage athletes from taking bribes or displaying non-sportsmanship behavior of any kind
- Coaches and organizers should maintain a high moral standard and serve as role models
- Coaches and organizers should provide swimmers with opportunities to develop their skills, confidence, and self-esteem, ensuring that the training program is adjusted to the needs and capabilities of each swimmer.
- Coaches and organizers have the responsibility to stay updated with the latest developments in training, safety, and coaching techniques
- Coaches and organizers should ensure that swimming venues are safe and appropriate
- Coaches and organizers should promote sportsmanship in training and competition and demonstrate responsible behavior towards natural resources and the environment, motivating swimmers to do the same