Starts and Finishes To Enter The Global Marathon Community

Starts and Finishes To Enter The Global Marathon Community

One of the most cherished moments for every marathon swimmer is finishing.

With the final few strokes, marathon swimmers feel a joy and a relief that is nearly indescribable and often overwhelming. But how marathon swimmers finish can vary around the world depending on what body of water and what governing body is recognizing the swim.

In the English Channel, there are two governing body: the Channel Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation.

For swims recognized by the Channel Swimming Association, finishes are governed by this rule: For a Swim to be officially recognised, the swimmer must enter the sea from the shore of departure and swim across the English Channel. (*) to finish on dry land, or (**) to touch steep cliffs of the opposite coast with no sea-water beyond. (note: Swimmers may finish in harbour water provided they land as in (*), or (**).

In fact, very few English Channel swimmers have had to touch steep cliffs of the opposite coast with no sea-water beyond. According to President Michael Read, “This is very unusual. It is most likely to happen at Cap Blanc on an England-to-France swim and at Samphire Hoe on a two-way from England, but I cannot think of anyone who have had to do this. The greater occurrence was with ‘no sea-water beyond’, especially landing at St Margarets Bay or West of Shakespeare Beach, where swimmers starting from France were required to clear the rocks. I had to do it myself. Having cleared the rocks, the problem was having to do it all again to get back to the boat. Looking through the records, this happened in about 15% of cases from France.”

For swims recognized by the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation finishes are governed by this rule: For a swim to be officially recognised, the swimmer must enter into the sea from the shore of departure, swim across the English Channel (i) to finish on dry land, or (ii) to touch steep cliffs of the opposite coast with no sea-water beyond. Swimmers may finish in harbour water provided they land as in (i).

For recognized swims governed by the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club in and around the Island of Jersey, official starts and finishes are are in the water at the end of breakwater of Elizabeth Castle. (C1590 – built by Sir Walter Raleigh for his Queen). The swimmers circumnavigate 41 miles around the island before touching the opposite end of the breakwater from which they started.

We forgive them for not touching where they started because fierce currents at this time of the swim would not permit a swimmer to come back to this point. There is no dry land within quite some distance at this point. We have tried other start points, but they have their own peculiarities which bring their own problems, such as navigation through extremely rocky areas at low water,” explained Charlie Gravett.

For a Jersey-to-France channel swim, the swimmer walks from the beach at La Coupe Point Jersey and take aim at finishing onshore in France on the beach at St Germain–sur–Ay Plage in Normandy ‘which we’ve managed to hit nine times out of ten.’ Sally Minty-Gravett also explained, “We have had some swimmers start on a beach and then finish on that same beach for the Jersey Solo, usually juniors or swimmers who prefer to walk up the beach and then have a welcoming party on the beach at the end.”

For swims ratified by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, finishes are governed by this rule: For a swim to be officially recognized, a swimmer must cross the channel from the natural connecting shore, touch the opposite natural connecting shore and clear the water.

For swims recognized by the Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association, finishes are similarly governed by the same rule: For a swim to be officially recognized, a swimmer must cross the channel from the natural connecting shore, touch the opposite natural connecting shore and clear the water.

For the Tsugaru Channel, this need to walk up onshore has profound effects on where the swimmers finish and the navigational course taken en route due to the extremely strong currents between Honshu and Hokkaido Islands. While a handful of swimmers can climb up on rocks that lie at the end of their closest point, other swimmers minutely adjust their bearings and aim for the rocky beaches that line either side of the channels where it is easier and safer to walk up onshore.

For recognized swims in Lake Tahoe, starts and finishes are similarly governed by the same rule: For a swim to be officially, a swimmer must start onshore, cross the lake, touch the opposite natural connecting shore and clear the water under their own power. The official start and finishing points are the Camp Richardson boat ramp on the California south shore and Hyatt Beach in Incline Village, Nevada which is the longest possible distance at 21 miles.

For recognized swims by the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation, starts and finishes are governed as such: A sanctioned swim begins at the Northeast buoy near the South Farallon Islands and ends at the Golden Gate Bridge. Because land cannot be touched due to the Islands designation as a National Wildlife Refuge, the swims begin at a marker buoy approximately 15 meters from South Farallon Island. The swim ends at the Golden Gate Bridge where the swimmer must clear the water after the midline of the bridge.

For recognized swims by the Strait of Asociacion de Cruce a Nado del Estrecho de Gibraltar (Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association), finishes in the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco are governed by this rule: The crossing starts from the boat located at Tarifa Island and the swimmer must touch the rocks. The crossing will end at a natural point on the Moroccan coast or, in the case where that may be a difficult point to access by the boats, when the event is considered to have been sufficiently carried out, touching Moroccan land or entering in a natural bay. The finish will be determined by your escort boat pilot.

Two-way swimmer Penny Palfrey explained her experience (shown below), “On the first leg, I came into Morocco with quite a large surge and was surrounded by a deep and thick layer of kelp the slippery boulders that were covered with razor-sharp barnacles. I was instructed to touch the point. I turned around and swam back to Spain. When I reach Spain I was instructed to touch a large boulder which was connected to the mainland of Spain.”

For recognized swims around Manhattan Island governed by NYC Swim, both the starts and finishes are located in the water. The starts are located at a designated point in the water and the finish is a vertical board floating in the water which swimmers must touch to officially finish.

Similarly, for official international competitions governed by FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation), LEN (Ligue Européenne de Natation), UANA (e.g., Unión Americana de Natación de las Américas or the Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas) or other selected international organizations (e.g., Beach Games) and domestic competitions, the finishes are in the water where the swimmers must touch a vertical timing board floating in the water in order to officially finish. The starts of these international competitions can be either in the water behind a designated starting rope or object or on a floating pontoon where the athletes dive into the water.

For inter-island channel swims recognized in the Hawaiian Islands, finishes are governed by this rule: Swim from shore to shore, start on land above the high water mark with no body of water behind, and end on land above the high water mark with no body of water beyond. Swimmers cannot start on a jetty or end on a jetty.

For recognized swims by the Hawaiian Channels Swimming Association, that patterned its rules after the Channel Swimming Association, starts and finishes are dry land to dry land where the swimmers start on land above the high water mark with no body of water behind. They must finish on land above the high water mark with no body of water beyond. Swimmers cannot start on a jetty or end on a jetty.

Channel swimmers and their escort boats take great care to eliminate the risk of being tossed by waves or slammed against topographic features of the shoreline that can cause harm, especially with dangerous coral reefs, sharp rocks and (occasionally) large surf present at both the start and finish.

In the early years of the Maui Channel (AuAu) Swim, the finish was in the harbor at Lahaina on Maui where the swimmers touched a rock on the breakwater. Since then, at the start of the Maui Channel Swim, the lead-off swimmer on the relay teams and the individuals get counted onshore before the start at Club Lanai on the island of Lanai. Then they walk out to start the race about one meter of water, depending on the tide, as they line up by the end of the pier. The solo swimmers who want the swim to be recognized must go ashore, then walk out to the starting line through the shallow water. The timing is from the pier to the finish line onshore at the Kaanapali Beach Resort on the Kaanapali coast of Maui.

For recognized swims in the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands, finishes are generally judged when a swimmer touches the rock cliffs, although some swimmers may finish on small rocky beaches. Cook Strait swimmer Penny Palfrey explained her finish, “I was instructed to swim as far as I could into a rocky bay. I was not permitted to exit the water because of possible danger to myself whilst climbing over the slippery and unstable rocks.”

For recognized swims around Cape Town, South Africa, starts and finishes are dry land to dry land. If there is no access to dry land, a swimmer must get as close as possible to dry land without risking their life. If conditions do not allow the swimmer to touch dry land, the pilot’s discretion is exercised only if the swimmers may put their life at risk by attempting to reach dry land. Discretion is exercised if required. With disabled swimmers, rough seas or large ocean swells, the level of risk to the swimmer is considered. However, if finishing is an issue of physical fatigue or emotional obstacles, the swimmer is required to adhere to the standard rules.

For recognized extreme cold-water swims of the International Ice Swimming Association where hypothermia is a constant threat, the starts and finishes depend on the environment. In principle, the starts are on land and the finishes are on land. However, ice swims are shorter and can also be done from an ice breaker in a sea surrounded by glaciers. The standard rule in ice swims is to complete the required distance. Once that is done, the swimmer can be assisted.

For recognized swims in the Strait of Messina, swimmers can start in the water, but they must have their feet firmly on the sea floor. They raise both hand and then wait for the start signal from the Official Timers. At the finish, swimmers touch the sea floor again, firmly standing up on their feet, and indicate their finish by raising both their hands. The official time is recorded at the moment the swimmer’s feet are planted and both hands are raised above their head. In two-way crossings, swimmers do not have to clear the water as is in the English Channel, but they must stand firmly on the sea floor and raise both hands to signify a crossing. After the Observer confirms that both hands have been raised while standing firmly on the sea floor, they can turn around and start on their return trip.

For recognized swims in the Rottnest Channel, official finishes are onshore where the swimmers must clear the water and walk past the finish structure. The race starts onshore at Cottesloe Beach and finishes onshore at Thompson’s Bay on Rottnest Island. The start is held in waves of 100 swimmers. At the finish there are marker buoys 1500 meters from the finish which get closer together and lead the swimmers into a finishing chute towards the finish arch approximately 15-20 meters up the beach.

Walk or touch. Finish by walking up out of the water or finish by touching something in the water. Either way, a finish is a finish is a finish – especially when you have been swimming for many hours. Welcome to the global community of marathon swimmers.



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