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Jean-Christophe Burvingt, deputy director of the French coast guard, would like to put an end to swimming the English Channel. Check out our guide on how to complete the 21-mile swim before it’s banned.

THE FIRST PERSON to swim across the Strait of Dover without the aid of a flotation device was Captain Matthew Webb, who did it in 21 hours and 45 minutes in 1875. Since then, many more people have repeated his feat. One swimmer, Kevin Murphy, has completed the crossing 34 times.

According to the BBC, 500 vessels make their way through the English Channel every day, making it potentially risky for the swimmers. Burvingt worries that a swimmer will cause a collision or be killed by an oncoming vessel.

If you want to swim the Channel, its important to understand how challenging it will be. You will be swimming 21 miles in cold water, with a strong tidal current that can push you over twice that distance.

The Channel is best attempted during the handful of days in the summer when the currents are weak and the temperature high. The water is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, but The Channel Swimmer’s Association, the most widely-accepted record-keeping and certifying agency of the swim, does not allow wetsuits. You are allowed a bathing suit, goggles, and a layer of grease.

There are actually three organizations in total that certify crossings of the English Channel: the CSA, the Channel Swimmng and Piloting Federation, and The Channel Crossing Association, which ratifies “unorthodox” crossings.

Image by Beige Alert

Contact your certifying agency of choice for information on their rules and membership, and book a support boat for the trip as soon as you can. Right now, pilots are booking up to three years in advance. The CSA and CSP&F keep lists of registered pilots, which do not go cheap but provide an invaluable service. Support boats will keep your course, steer around obstacles (from ships to jellyfish), give you food and water, and rescue you if you run into trouble.

While you’re waiting, train. The CSA requires a medical clearance and a certification that you have successfully completed a six-hour swim in water no warmer than 60 degrees. Figure out what food you’ll need during training so your support boat can provide you with the best nutrition possible. Make sure to arrange to have your attempt judged and certified as well.

The Channel swim is one of the toughest in the world: fewer people have swum the English Channel than have climbed Everest. If you do successfully complete it, the only thing to do is start training to swim the round trip.

Beginner's Guides


About The Author

Morgan deBoer

Morgan deBoer is a writer spending two years in Japan. She is a staff writer for Matador and blogs at Hello Morgan. Follow her @morgandeboer.

  • Kathy

    “fewer people have swum the English Channel than have climbed Everest” Wow! That’s a very interesting and surprising factoid.

  • Morgan Leahy deBoer

    It is! The “Peak and Pond” Challenge is completing both the swim and the climb.

  • Kristin Conard

    Do they want to ban it because of the risk/safety concerns?

  • oolung

    I’m pretty sure that everyone who plans to swim the channel is perfectly aware of the danger… Plus it’s not like the swimmer is there completely on his/her own, so the risk of collision should be diminished, shouldn’t it?

    I’m definitely in favour of a bit more risk for the sake of personal freedom than of putting us all in safety jackets…

    (And yes, I do realise that it’s complicated and there’s quite a lot of people who actually do act like stupid kids and who are much better off with clear regulations…)

    Yet another place on this good old earth that’s falling victim to office rats…


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  • Bob

    This article:

    1. Fails to elaborate on whether the French Coast Guard effort to ban these swims has any traction in the real world or is just some blowhard bureaucrat spouting off.

    2. Fails to note that only 10 percent of swimmers succeed at this, a fact that’s far more resonant and relevant than the Mt. Everest comparison.

    3. Uses “its” instead of the correct “it’s.”

    Shoddy journalism.

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