Channel Relay Guidelines

Page revised 4 September 2022

Whether it’s your first relay or not, it’s important to remind yourselves of the key factors that help make your relay a success. Some of your team may not be as experienced as the team leader. All team members will be keen to play their part, but lack of preparation can mean less experienced swimmers may not be able to deliver on the day.

There are several components to a channel swim and a few variable factors which can impede success.

When preparing for your relay, it’s important to consider the variables involved:

Rough water

Normally force 3-4 but expect force 5 winds – wind over tide causes choppier water.

Water temperature

At the beginning and the end of the season this will be lower. (June /October)

Air temperature

September and October swims can involve lower temperatures particularly at night.

Night Swimming

All but the fastest crossings involve some night swimming. As the season draws on, the nights are longer and therefore more night swimming may be involved. Have two sets of Guardian Adventure lights!

Swim speed

The team should aim for an average team swim speed of 2.5 to 3km/h or faster. Each member should be able to sustain their speed for the full hour of each swim leg without faffing or stopping.


The key stages of a relay are:


The start

The swimmer starting the relay will have to swim from the boat to the starting point, clear the water and, upon a start signal, enter the water and start the swim, coming alongside the pilot boat on the agreed side.

The changeover

At changeover the replacement swimmer must swim behind the previous swimmer and overtake to start their stint. Remember that timing is critical – be ready for the changeover and enter the water quickly and safely on being instructed. The safest place to overtake the previous swimmer is on their outside, as they are heading in towards the boat. No touching or high fives to the other swimmer. Previous swimmer should make their way to the ladder as quickly as possible and not hang around in the water.

Back on the boat

It is important to quickly get changed into warm clothing for the periods between stints. Don’t hang around in a wet costume, even if you think you’re warm and want to chat. A fresh costume for the next stint avoids having to change into a cold wet one a few hours later. The rest of the team should be ready with towels and assist with getting the swimmer comfortable once on board, team work is required


Not everyone suffers but on a relay those that do must prepare themselves to minimise the impact. Some choose medication like Stugeron (ask for the generic Cinnarazine,) some use patches, others just chomp on ginger biscuits. If you’re not sure, take something. Seasickness is horrible. The saying goes – First you’re afraid you’ll die, then you’re afraid you won’t! Avoid phones and social media and look at the horizon; it minimises nausea.

Mid stint push

Sometimes the pilot may ask the swimmer to swim/push hard for up to an hour to push through a strong tide. All swimmers should be trained and prepared to step up to such a request. Sometimes even a neap tide can behave in an unexpected way.

The finish

The finishing swimmer must swim to the shore and stand clear of the water until they hear the finishing signal. Sometimes, in the right conditions, the pilot may permit one or more team members to accompany the finishing swimmer to shore. They must swim behind the finishing swimmer and not touch them until they have cleared the water and the finishing horn has sounded. Then you can hug and take photos….but be quick and make your way back to the boat in short order.


 Pre-swim preparation

Make sure you are doing at least three, quality, one-hour sessions per week in a pool over the winter. Interval training and technique work are essential. If you’re new to distance swimming, have a coach look at your stroke to maximise your efficiency and prevent shoulder niggles.

Remember – you are training to be able to swim efficiently and maintain your pace for a full hour at a time without stopping.

The open water swim preparation involves quality training swims under different conditions to ensure each swimmer is fully prepared for every possible situation. Do not enter the trap of thinking that one qualifying swim on a sunny May/June day means that you are ready for the swim. You should be able to crack out 60 – 90 minute non-stop training swims on a regular basis. Well prepared teams often arrange with a pilot for an opportunity to experience swimming alongside their pilot boat and also practise swimming at night. (This can be arranged safely along a beach.) Also arrange safe training swims in rough water for your team.

Experience has shown that unsuccessful relays have the following common factors:

  • Two or more weak swimmers
  • Lack of pool & sea training experience
  • Lack of night & rough water experience
  • Sea sickness
  • Insufficient preparation. 

If you and your team are looking at doing a 2-way channel relay swim then please note,

We on “high Hopes” will only take on a 2-way swim team providing the team can supply evidence that they have completed a 1-way channel swim first

Be prepared – be successful.