Nuanced Vernacular of Open Water Swimming

Nuanced Vernacular of Open Water Swimming

World Open Water Swimming Association content is published on and There are some nuances that perhaps can be misunderstood or overlooked by readers.

While the designations DNF (Did Not Finish), OTL (Over Time Limit), DQ (Disqualified), DNS (Did Not Start) indicate that a swimmer did not complete a solo crossing, channel swim, or amateur or professional competition, WOWSA often uses the terms “attempted” or “competed in” to describe their efforts – without indicating their official time or placing. The implication and purpose is to give credit to the individual for training for and attempting the swim, but not give them credit for a successful swim.

There is a slight nuance between “attempted” and “competed in“.

The word “attempt” is used for solo crossings of a channel, lake, bay, etc. by an individual swimmer. In contrast, “competed in” is used when the swimmer is entered into a competitive race. Of course, “attempt” and “competed in” imply the same thing: a swim without an official finish or placing.

For example, there are many instances when a swimmer’s effort is designated with a OTL or DQ, but they actually completed the entire distance or race.

Of course, “completed” is a much easier term to understand.  That means, the swimmers started the event, crossing, or swim, successfully swam the entire course, and finished safely.

Competed in” is a respectful term that – in the WOWSA community – means that the swimmers started the event or solo swim, but along the way, they retired, were disqualified (DQ or DSQ), were over the time limit (OTL), or were pulled from the water due to safety, fatigue, shark encounters, jellyfish stings, or some kind of injury or physiological trauma (e.g., hypothermia, hyperthermia, injury, or illness) – and did not successfully complete the swim.

But, of course, DNF can also indicate a Did Not Fail.

One example is the second leg of the English Channel two-way crossing of Antonio Argüelles. The double crossing was going smoothly – as planned – until the pain of gallstones eventually got to Argüelles after 23 hours in the Channel. He was in pain, he knew it, and he aborted his swim. Yes, in a classic DNF attempt, his spirits were remarkably buoyant. “I see my swim [attempt] as a big success. This is just my second double, we have learned a lot during this past year. I see it as the entrance you have to pay to be in another type of swims. Also, fulfilled one dream I had since the beginning, I landed in Cap Gris Nez.”

English Channel two-way crossing attempt course over 23 hours

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Steven Munatones