English Channel Rules

What do you have to do?

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Photo: The end of the Hellespont swim in 2011. The Hellespont swim is a race in Turkey from Europe to Asia


The Channel Swimming Association (CSA) was established to “prevent this fine achievement of swimming the channel from being ruined by the artificial means and lack of investigation.” These guys, and the newer Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CS&PF), are sticklers for the rules. Apart from the obvious, the rules are pretty simple:

  • Wear the right gear, and
  • Swim the whole way

The challenge is to swim under the same conditions as Captain Webb’s original achievement in 1875. Therefore, all you can wear is a “standard” swimming costume, googles and (only one) cap. According to the Channel Swimming Association – the swimming costume “shall be of a material not offering thermal protection or buoyancy and shall be sleeveless and legless”. So no wetsuits, buoyancy aids, etc. They allow a nose clip and ear plugs but mp3 players are banned.

For the swim to be recognised as successful, the swimmer must “enter the sea from the shore of departure and swim across the English Channel and finish on dry land, or touch steep cliffs of the opposite coast with no sea-water beyond”. So touching any person or boat throughout the swim results in disqualification. Everyone knows a story of someone who fell just short of getting to the other side. Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg VC was one of the first near misses, falling short by a few hundred metres on his attempt in 1925 after 17 hours in the water. He was looking very rough in the water though, as you can see in this video.