Abstract Route Types

by Evan Morrison. 31 March 2018.

Summary: Repeatable swim routes fall in one of five categories: point-to-point, multi-way, circumnavigation, island loop, or combination.

To review previous posts on this subject:

First, consider buoy routes: An infinite variety of course shapes are possible. This malleability makes them perfect for mass-participation events, efficient use of safety personnel, and specific-distance courses (such as 10 km or 2.4 miles).

In contrast, the natural routes are constrained by the shape of the body of water (which makes them repeatable). Further, there are only a few fundamental “route types” that can arise from any given aquatic geography. We will call these Abstract Route Types, and there are five of them.

1. Point-to-Point

”Here to there…”

A point-to-point is a continuous swim from one land location (start), across water, to a different land location (finish).

one way route
One-way route: Flathead Lake, Montana. Somers to Polson. GPS track of Craig Lenning (2015).

Examples: Lake Tahoe (Camp Richardson to Incline Village), Swim the Suck (Tennessee River), Boston Light Swim.

1a. Channel Swim

”Shore to shore…”

A channel swim is a point-to-point swim between two distinct land masses (between two islands, or between an island and a “mainland”).

A channel swim is distinguished from a general point-to-point swim in two ways:

For example, an English Channel swim is 20.5 statute miles, even if the swimmer begins in Folkestone and finishes in Wissant (a straight-line distance of nearly 25 miles).

Enforced point-to-point routes in lakes, bays, and rivers depend on starting and finishing at specific spots. Lake, bay, and river routes can be shortcut, but channel swims cannot.

channel swim route
Channel swim route. Isle of Man to Northern Ireland. GPS track of Triskelion relay (2017).

Examples: Any of the Oceans Seven swims. Alcatraz to San Francisco.

2. Multi-Way

”Out and back…”

A multi-way is a semi-continuous swim consisting of two or more consecutive swims of the same point-to-point route.

Each distinct part of a multi-way swim is called a “leg.” For a multi-way swim to be enforced and repeatable, the swimmer must clear the water (or touch land above water) at the end of each leg. Typically, the swimmer is allowed a maximum of 10 minutes on land before starting the next leg.

Multi-way swims are semi-continuous due to the necessity of touching land at each end (to enforce the route distance). The only fully continuous swim routes are point-to-points, circumnavigations, and island loops. If the swimmer breaks for longer than 10 minutes on land, it is a stage swim.

multi-way swim route
Two-way English Channel swim. GPS track of Sal Minty-Gravett (2016).

Examples: Any point-to-point swim (see previous examples) prefaced by “double,” “three-way,” etc.

3. Circumnavigation


A circumnavigation is a swim around an island.

circumnavigation route
Circumnavigation route: Swim around Santa Cruz Island, California. GPS track of Selkie & the Sirens relay (2017).

Examples: Manhattan Island Swim (20 Bridges), Around Anacapa, Mercer Island Marathon Swim.

4. Island Loop

Out, around, and back…

An island loop is a swim from one land mass, out and around an island, and returning to the first land mass.

Like circumnavigation routes, the direction of island loops (clockwise or counter-clockwise) should always be specified. Because the swimmer does not touch the island or complete a full circumnavigation, island loops are fully continuous swims.

island loop route
Island loop route. Round-Trip Angel Island. GPS track of Evan Morrison (2015).

Examples: Round-Trip Alcatraz (a.k.a. “Swim Around the Rock”) and Round-Trip Angel Island in San Francisco Bay; Swim Around Alligator Light (Florida Keys); loop around Robben Island from Cape Town (first swum by Theodore Yach in 2009), Charlotte Brynn’s loop around Ile Ronde from Newport in Lake Memphremagog; Sarah Thomas’ 104-mile loop in Lake Champlain around Gardiner Island VT from Rouses Point NY.

5. Combination

A combination route involves two distinct routes (point-to-point, multi-way, circumnavigation, or island loop) performed consecutively.

combination swim route
Combination route. Anacapa lollipop swim. GPS track of Peter Hayden (2014).

Example: Jen Dutton’s Keuka Lake “A-B-C” swim in 2015.

Related Articles

Posted in: rules/standards/principles Tags: routes