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When Is A Relay A Record?

While the relay records across many channels are historically governed and ratified by the local governing body, the growth in open water swimming is leading to an explosion of new records.

The tradition of six-person relays across channels was started by the Channel Swimming Association in the English Channel. The Association and other channel governing bodies have encouraged and ratified six-person relays where each member swims one-hour legs in successive order without a change in swimming order or swimming duration.

In fact, if there is a change in swimming order or swimming duration, the Observers note this deviation from the established rules and the swim is not ratified. For example, in the Catalina Channel where one relay member cannot proceed due to any reason, this swimmer must still remain in the established rotation and float (or swim slowly) for one hour in order for the relay to be ratified.

However, with growing interest in the sport and the camaraderie that comes with crossing a lake or a channel with friends, colleagues, and teammates, there are now many deviations from the established relays rules of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and Channel Swimming Association.

Open water swimming relays can now take on myriad forms based on:

1. Any number of swimmers with a minimum number of two swimmers and an unlimited maximum number of swimmers
2. Any time duration of swim legs
3. Any mix of gender
4. Any mix of ages
5. Any mix of equipment (i.e., some swimmers with wetsuits and some without neoprene)
6. Any mix of fixed or non-fixed rotating order
7. Any mix of swimming styles (e.g., butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, individual medley)
8. Any mix of disabled and/or able-bodied swimmers

While the tradition of six swimmers has been long established, relays can vary according to the local rules, race regulations, new traditions, availability of swimmers, and many other factors (e.g., size of boat). 2-6 person relays comprise of the vast number of relays, but there are many other deviations.

While the tradition of six members swimming one-hour legs has been long established, the time duration of each swimmer can vary according to the local rules, race regulations, new traditions, availability of swimmers, and other factors (e.g., interest in speed). In the extreme cases, the time duration of record-setting relays has dropped down to 1-2 minutes each. This arrangement allows each swimmer to swim very quickly during each of their legs, but also taxes the swimmers because rest is so correspondingly short.

Relays can be set by all-male teams, all-female teams, teams with equal number per gender, unequal number per gender, senior teams (whatever the age definitions are), or junior teams or disabled teams.

Relays can be set swimming butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, or in individual medley order.

If the relays are in a fixed rotation, then the members must swim in the same order from start to finish. Conversely, if the relays are determined to be able to swim in a non-fixed rotation, then the members can swim in any order from start to finish where each member swims at least one leg, and members can determine which swimmer enters the water at the appropriate time (e.g., if it is a beach finish in high surf, then the best body-surfing swimmer may elect to get in the water).

What is important and essential is that the rules of the relay are definitively set BEFORE the relay begins. Once the relay begins, it is traditional to follow those particular rules. So if the team determines that each leg will be 30 minutes in a fixed rotation, then the members must swim in the same rotation for 30-minute legs from start to finish. On the other hand, if the pre-set rules of the relay are not followed during the swim, then the relay is correctly defined as another type of relay.

Information about relay records around the world are ratified by the individual associations around the world that govern solo and relay swims in local waters. Records are exclusively determined by the local rules and regulations or race director. Increasingly, relay records are being attempted and set in bodies of water where there are no existing governing bodies. In both cases (i.e., existence of an established governing body and the lack of one), these records are maintained by the World Open Water Swimming Association and posted under Records on Openwaterpedia.

For example, with the first international relay crossing of the Molokai Channel (Ka’iwi Channel Swim) coming up in July, event directors Jeff Kozlovich and Steve Haumschild will be able to determine many different relay records established across the Kaiwi Channel from western shores of the island of Molokai to the eastern shores of the island of Oahu.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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