What Is An Assisted Swim?  What Is An Unassisted Swim?

What Is An Assisted Swim? What Is An Unassisted Swim?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

One of the issues that has been an issue of contention among the marathon swimming community is the definition of an assisted swim and an unassisted swim.

For many, the difference between an assisted swim and an unassisted swim is a black-and-white issue; the difference is as clear as a night swim and day swim.

But is the difference that clear? How are the two general categories of marathon swims defined? And who or what entities have the right – and the obligation – to define these terms?

What are the definitions?

An unassisted swim is a marathon swim that is sanctioned by an established governing body where a swimmer confirms to all existing rules of the governing body. In general, unassisted swims allow use of one porous swimsuit, goggles, one non-neoprene swim cap, and ear plugs.

An assisted swim is a marathon swim that is sanctioned by an established governing body where a swimmer uses or benefits from any possible number of objects including one or more of the following, depending on the local governing body rules:

* swim streamers
* stinger suits
* two swim caps
* bubble caps
* neoprene caps
* wetsuits
* hand paddles
* fins
* flotation devices of any kind, whether for safety, buoyancy, or visibility
* tech suits or any non-confirming swimsuits
* any objects or swimwear that aid in propulsion, buoyancy, warmth or cooling
* any objects or swimwear that serve as protection of jellyfish, sharks, or marine life
* shark cages
* jellyfish mesh or shields that prevents the natural or accidental encounter between marine life and swimmers
* Shark Shields or any mechanical or electronic deterrents of marine life
* any benefits from possible non-conforming actions by swimmers including drafting of another swimmer, or off an escort boat or water vessel
* purposeful touching of another individual or water vessel
* support or propulsion of a swimmer by another individual or object (e.g., float, buoy, boat, kayak, paddle board)

What are the issues?

While the use of some equipment – like fins or a wetsuit – is easy to distinguish between an assisted swim and unassisted swim, the use of other equipment like a bubble cap, jammer suits, tech suits or Shark Shields is much more debatable and controversial.

Because the bodies of water around the world are dramatically different and contain different types of marine life, the definitions can be different – and controversial.

What entities have the right to define these terms?

Some individuals say it is the right and obligation of the local governing body to set the rules and definitions of swimming in their particular body of water. This is the current situation in the contemporary open water swimming world. Some prefer it to be the marathon swimming community at large. How should the marathon swimming community be defined? Is the community limited to those who have completed a channel swim or a swim of 20 miles or a professional marathon race or coaches of athletes who swim 10 km swims – or all of those individuals?

While the determination and definition of an assisted swim is currently decided upon by each governing body responsible for the ratification of each solo and relay swim, there are discussions and interest in the global marathon swimming community to make one unified global standard for all aspects of the sport. Scott Zornig of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association has floated various ideas (see here) and is, inadvertently or not, seen as an influential leader of these informal discussions at least in online social networks (e.g., on the Marathon Swimmers Forum). While many others have discussed online and off, Zornig has analyzed the situation in a systematic manner (refer here).

The proposed uniformity includes a common global standard for rules, equipment, and definition of assisted swim and unassisted swims.

If the global standards are determined, the following organizations including the Channel Swimming Association, Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, Channel Swimming & Piloting Association, Asociacion de cruce a nado del Estrecho de Gibraltar, NYC Swim, British Long Distance Swimming Association, Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, Hawaiian Channel Swim Association, Farallon Islands Swimming Association, Lake Tahoe Swimming Society, Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, Vancouver Open Water Swimming Association, Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association, Japan International Open Water Swimming Association, Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association, Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association, Menorca Channel Swimming Association, Association of Korea Open Water Swimming, Universal Marathon Cold Swimming Association, L.O.S.T. Swimming, Rottnest Channel Swim Association, Great Lakes Open Water Swimming Association, Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association, World Open Water Swimming Association, and many more may have the opportunity to chime in and get involved.

Copyright © 2008 – 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

Steven Munatones