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The 2021 Buzzards Bay Coalition Swim will take place on Saturday, June 26th! This year’s event will take Covid-19 safety precautions into consideration, adapting the event in a variety of ways to ensure that we can run the swim safely for all our participants, volunteers and staff.

The most significant change: we plan to limit the event to 50 swimmers. This will enable us to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which we anticipate will be necessary. Registration will be open by invitation to individuals who have participated in at least three Buzzards Bay Swims and to those who have shown exceptional dedication to fundraising in support of protecting and restoring the Bay.

Throughout its history, the Buzzards Bay Swim has served as a celebration of the Bay, bringing hundreds of people together to revel in our shared passions for open-water swimming and for clean water. This event also has been an important source of financial support for the Coalition’s work on behalf of the Bay. The cancellation of last year’s swim was not just disappointing for all of us who love and look forward to that day each year, it significantly impacted the funds available to promote clean water.

Limiting the field of swimmers improves the likelihood that the event can take place. However, it will also greatly reduce event fundraising essential to support the Coalition’s work. For this reason, we will ask all swimmers to commit to a $1,000 fundraising minimum for this year. We know that some of our most dedicated participants regularly exceed this target and we also know that it’s a goal that we can help anyone reach. While this change will certainly not make up for the smaller event, it will provide critical support for our work to protect and preserve the Bay.

We are looking forward to getting the Buzzards Bay Swim back into New Bedford Harbor this year, albeit with a smaller field, and we continue to look forward to the day when we are once again able to hold events that bring our entire community together.

The Buzzards Bay Swim features a spectacular 1.2-mile open water course across outer New Bedford Harbor. The point-to-point course begins in the South End of New Bedford and ends at Fort Phoenix Beach State Reservation in Fairhaven. On the water, swimmers are fully supported by safety personnel and welcomed to the finish line by cheering supporters.

What does the course look like?

Buzzards Bay Swim features a one-of-a-kind scenic point-to-point course across outer New Bedford Harbor. Assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard and a local safety patrol, swimmers navigate 1.2 miles through the harbor and channel, passing by the iconic Butler Flats Lighthouse and the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier, one of the largest stone structures on the East Coast.

What is the water like?

Water Temperature

Typical water temperatures range from 68-70 degrees F. Buzzards Bay can be slow to warm up in the spring, but water temperatures reliably increase 5-10 degrees in the weeks leading up to the Swim.

Roughly 80% of swimmers wear wetsuits, while others swim in bathing suits or bathing suits and a swim shirt. Visit the Training page to learn more about wetsuit options and open-water swimming training.


For safety, the Swim always takes place during an incoming tide. This helps push swimmers to shore rather than out to sea.

This year, high tide is at 9:54am. All swimmers must be present for the Safety Briefing starting promptly at 7am. Visit the Schedule and Directions page for a full list of start times.

Marine Life

The Swim takes place in outer New Bedford Harbor, which is largely open to the waters of Buzzards Bay. Most swimmers encounter harmless marine species such as seaweed, eelgrass, small fish, and the occasional comb jelly. In fact, these species are a sign of clean water!

Water Quality

The Swim takes place in outer New Bedford Harbor, well outside of the working inner harbor and hurricane barrier. The water in the outer harbor is clear and well flushed by Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Many swimmers remark about how beautiful and clean the water is, especially compared to when the Swim began in 1993. The finish line, located at Fort Phoenix State Reservation, is a popular beach where local residents swim all season long. We coordinate closely with local health departments, which test the water every few days in summer for bacterial pollution. If bacteria levels were above safe standards, we would not hold the Swim.

In the inner portion of New Bedford Harbor (inside the hurricane barrier and north of Route 6), the U.S. EPA is working to clean up legacy contamination from PCBs. The only human risk from PCBs today comes from direct exposure to the muddy bottom (primarily north of Coggeshall Street) or from eating fish and shellfish caught in the harbor. There is no risk of exposure to PCBs in the water itself, especially in the outer harbor beyond the hurricane barrier, where the Buzzards Bay Swim takes place. The PCB cleanup in New Bedford Harbor is a high priority for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and funds raised through the Swim helps support our advocacy on this issue.

How are swimmers supported on the water?

To keep all swimmers safe, the Buzzards Bay Swim has a robust and experienced safety team and tested protocol in place.

Safety Squad

Along the Swim course, there are 20+ motorized vessels on the water from agencies including:

  • The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
  • Massachusetts Environmental Police
  • TowBoatU.S. New Bedford
  • New Bedford Police, Fire, and Harbormaster
  • New Bedford Harbor Development Commission
  • Fairhaven Police, Fire, EMTs, and Harbormaster

Additional support comes from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, Community Boating Center, private captains, and the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s own R/V Buzzards Baykeeper®. These boats enforce the channel closure, advise recreational boaters, transport event and safety staff, visually monitor the event and participants, and provide rescue services if needed.

In addition, 14+ trained kayak safety squad members line both sides of the course and watch for swimmers in distress. They wear bright safety green t-shirts and vests so they are visible to swimmers and boaters. These kayakers are available to anyone who needs help or needs to get out of the water for any reason. There are also EMTs stationed at the finish line and an ambulance standing by at Fairhaven Shipyard, should it be required.


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