Great you are swimming - but how much are you giving BACK to the sport?

NedNed Charter Member
edited March 2012 in General Discussion
Donal Buckley "convinced me" to provide a few thoughts on our sport.

It is posted in (14 March) - so you may have to go down a page or two. I did my best to paste (a shorter version) it in below - think about it !

Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.

Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.

He is an International Swimming International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world.

Essential Volunteering to support solo swims and swimmers (with added maths)

Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.

Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.

My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.

“WHAT ??????”

“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”

There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.

I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.

First of all – well done!

Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.

Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:

9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)

9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours

“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”

Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!

The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.

=20 person hours.

Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers

2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours

Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

1*8 (5 hours plus travel time) + (2 crew *8 hours)/5 + (10 volunteers*8 hour +100 hours)/20 = 20 person hours

Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.

10 events * ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (10 volunteers*4 hours+135 hours)/20 swimmers) =

92 person hours

Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)


Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.

I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!

I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.


For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!

Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)


The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.

We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.


I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.

Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours

Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours

Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours

Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours

Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour

So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!

So, my call to action is to change the dynamic.

1.Accept the principal that YOU OWE
2.Start volunteering. Miss one swim in 10 to help.
3.Learn to kayak. Borrow your brother’s boat.
Start now….



  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    I've said on my blog that I think this is an essential and important article on our sport. Sandycove island Swim Club in Ireland at least, (Ned is secretary) relies on volunteers every year for people doing long qualification swims, races, Ned's Distance Week, and just looking after people regularly. As a consequence of this discussion for example, the SISC club committee is going to look at a way of tracking volunteer time or ways of bringing more people into volunteer, maybe the marathon swimmers sacrifice short swims so this will be reciprocated, maybe we try to get more people kayaking, or work more closely before the season starts with the local kayak club etc.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    For channel swimmers: Have you volunteered as crew on at least as many crossings as the total number of crew members on your own crossing(s)?

    If not, you may not be "giving back" enough!
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    If I could spend my life crewing, I'd be a very happy man, it is a fantastic honour to be part of someone's swim. I think every swimmer should crew, to at least get an appreciation of how essential your crew is to your success.

  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest
    We have begun a serious pilot training program at the South End including, Kayak training, Zodiac Training, Radio Training, First Aid training & Cpr, meetings with Coast Guard and Vessel traffic, tide lectures. Our "long swim" program requires swimmers to volunteer piloting or other duties as a requirement to do these our success has begun to burden the regulars....Our success and growth has made it essential for others to step up and help and in the long run it is a good thing to do...

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    This is a great thread I like Ned's formula, but the truth is I have crewed more because I consider it a privilege than an obligation. I have had the pleasure of watching a few great MIMS races unfold, and last year I had the opportunity to crew for friends swimming Catalina, Ederle, MIMS, and Memphre.

    I think crewing is also a great way to get some really good beta on a swim and should be considered part of a logical progression toward a solo attempt.... crew, relay, solo.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • jcmalickjcmalick Wilmington, DEMember
    Crewing is a great way to give back especially if the swim allows, to be a pace swimmer! Ultimately, my preference is to have an up close and personal experience with the swimmer in the water as I know the thoughts and joy that are going on within. Kayakers, often unpaid except for a t-shirt and hopefully an ounce of gratitude from their swimmers, are a pivotal position when the swim calls for their service (obviously swims such as the English Channel and Farallones would not classify as the conditions usually jeopardize the kayaker's position and safety)! This year I almost have as many escort roles planned as I do marathon swims including at least the Potomac River Swim, MIMS, possibly Kingdom, and a Delaware Bay Crossing. In the end, be nice to your kayaker and if you can lend your experience as a swimmer to another by taking a supporting cast position, you will feel such a reward and have a greater understanding of the worthiness of every person that makes a swim a success!
  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    Besides crewing on channel crossings, helping out at local open water swims is a great way to help encourage and develop the younger generations of open water swimmers, some of whom may develop into channel and marathon swimmers. Volunteer to be a body marker, a timer, an official, a safety officer or race packet stuffer. Volunteer to speak at age-group swim teams. Volunteer to help out at open water conferences. You never know what kid or adult who you can inspire and help become a channel swimmer.

    Steven Munatones
    Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    FYI - Ned Denison will be inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Ned is not an Honor Swimmer in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame is exclusively devoted to marathon swimmers while the International Swimming Hall of Fame includes primarily pool swimmers with a fewer number of divers, water polo players, coaches, administrators, synchronized swimmers and a very select handful of open water swimmers. For an open water swimmer to become a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, he or she must go through a more difficult vetting process and only the very best have been selected (e.g., Alison Streeter, Lynne Cox, Penny Dean, Greta Andersen, Michael Read, John Kinsella, Kevin Murphy, Paul Asmuth). For more information, visit Ned will be formally honored at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Long Beach, California on September 22, 2012 as an Honour Administrator. He will be joined by a number of other Honour Swimmers and Honour Organisations. Please note that the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame uses the British spelling vs. the International Swimming Hall of Fame which uses American spelling.

    Steven Munatones
    Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber
    edited January 2014
    Great post... It's something to think about and something that I often wonder if some of the sorry.."younger" folks think about.
    We all give back in our own way. Not everyone is able to kayak, crew or even swim however so it's always good to "think outside the box".I know I would love to crew but I'd be completely worthless on a boat, I'd be a hindrance I get so seasick.
    "Giving back" may not even be in the realm of swimming!
  • I think giving back to your sport whether it be swimming, running, biking, tris is the most important thing you can do. Yes, you do hand over wads of cash for the privilege of beating yourself up for a couple of hours but the majority of those looking after your safety (even thou you do not perceive that) are volunteers.

    I was meant to run the Colfax Marathon in denver last year. It did not happen due to injury but I made damn sure we as a family+one of the boys' gurlfriends, thats 5 of us, went out and helped at the event. Yes, they were bored stiff and hoarse with shouting but they got a slap up breakfast out of me and the satisfaction that they gave something back to their fellow humans.

    I make a point of thanking every volunteer I can find on 'race' day. A little tough on the swims but I try. This year I want to start tackling some swim only events here in Colorado and will be looking for volunteer opps too.
  • KNicholasKNicholas ArizonaCharter Member
    Given the current discussion on MIMS and it's complicated logistics, it's important for swimmers to remember that great swims require great volunteers (even better when those volunteers are familiar with open water swimming). Just food for thought as the open water season gets into full gear. Volunteering as a kayaker, observer, race packet stuffer, timer, food crew, or boat crew member is the best way to ensure that swims don't fall off the map.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Reviving this valuable thread because I am finally, after participating in this wonderful sport for 8 years, giving back! I will be volunteering the Friday night before Boston Light this year. I was actually lucky to get kicked out of Russia early because it made this possible. (Otherwise I would have missed BLS by two weeks.)

    I look forward to meeting all the BLS swimmers this year, as well as meeting some forumites I've been reading & admiring for years. Pictures and blog post (of course) to follow next month!


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    edited July 2018

    Excellent news. Have an awesome time, Mike.

    Now that I'm back from 20 Bridges, having had so much support myself, both there and at home, it's my turn to be on the boat.

    I'm crewing for a Cornwall to Scilly swim on Sunday, then driving to Loch Awe to crew for the very accomplished @Helbe on her quest to complete the Triple Loch.

    After that, Mr R and I will be driving the "North Coast 500", round the top of Scotland, wild camping (and dipping, obviously!) then heading to Dover to crew for a solo.

    It's a privilege to watch people swim and a fabulous way to spend summer. It never palls.

    Campervans. Awesome pieces of kit.....bringing swimmers together. Have bed, will travel

    Anyone else got plans?

  • SoloSolo B.C. CanadaSenior Member

    Heading out this weekend to recon a 12k swim with a gal who is gunning to win this particular race. Last year she kayaked for me on the Salish Sea, so we have been training together for 2 years now. It is amazing to be able to give back!

  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    I consider myself part of the support crew for a swimmer doing her first event- a relay of Lake George. Last year, Louise Rourke was a mile a day swimmer, happy to swim along the shore from her dock. She got the bug, and while she doesn't plan to try a solo, we are sharing- along with a relatively huge rotation of paddlers and boat support. I've done a bit of paddling for one of her long swims out in the more open area of the lake. I look forward to paddling for a solo swimmer one day- let me know if you are coming to the Lake George area, and I'll see about shuffling my jobs. :D

  • Copelj26Copelj26 ChicagoSenior Member
    edited July 2018

    With my big swim for the year done, trying to give back in the ways I can locally, next week I am covering a swim program for someone who is currently in the north channel. In addition I have been and am providing some training/support/direction/encouragement to some people from a dog rescue I do work with, who are doing their first tri to raise money for the dog rescue, who have limited swim experience and no OW experience. Does not quite reach the crewing stage but trying to find ways.

  • MLambyMLamby Senior Member

    With my goal for the year reached, and having had a full knee replacement two days ago, I am going to look into piloting the Swim 4 Freedom in August for anyone who doesn't have a kayaker. We'll see. Lake Geneva can be pretty rough and if I get tipped over.....could be a problem. :) I may just go volunteer. GREAT point to be giving back though

  • SydneDSydneD Senior Member

    I crewed two events in 2017, 20 Bridges and Search for Memphre.
    It was great and I'm glad my schedule allowed it to happen. There are no open water swims near me so volunteering always requires a fair amount of travel time.

    My job, however, also feels like a form of giving back, even if it's not the same as crewing for a swim. I coach and teach swimming full-time, with many clients who are open water swimmers or triathletes, others who are adult onset swimmers, and anywhere in between.

    I also donate lessons and pool time to a few immigrant and refugee families who have either a lack of water experience or who have had water-related trauma of some sort. This is something I really really want to be doing more of.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    One of my passion topics. This year it’s going to be close as to whether I volunteer or swim more event miles, I’ll be over 100 for each. And ever year for the random solos and the events we continue to see a lot of the same people volunteering and speaking for myself I’m starting to burn out. We ALL have an obligation to each other to show up and count some strokes, put on a race, do swimmer check in, crew a channel, do cleanup, give a lesson, etc. Find a way to do YOUR share, because some of us are tired of picking up your slack. rant over.

  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member

    j9swim said:
    we continue to see a lot of the same people volunteering and speaking for myself I’m starting to burn out. We ALL have an obligation to each other to show up and count some strokes, put on a race, do swimmer check in, crew a channel, do cleanup, give a lesson, etc. Find a way to do YOUR share, because some of us are tired of picking up your slack. rant over.

    Couldn't agree with this more. And I hear ya on the burnout. This is something I feel more each year with BLS.

    To the newbies out there--volunteering is actually a lot of fun. If you haven't done it yet, try it. You might like it and us old crotchety folks will appreciate the fresh blood.


    Stop me if you've heard this one...
    A grasshopper walks into a bar...

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    My local running club struggles with this, so we track volunteering and assign points (which is actually one of my volunteer jobs, so if anyone is looking to do this for a swim program, let me know and I can share what I do). Members can redeem points for discounts on club merch, discounted race entries, and very specific to running, a chance at a time-waived number to the Boston Marathon. We also have a volunteer of the month drawing, where you get one entry for each time you volunteer and the winner gets a $25 gift card to their choice of local establishment.

  • Our local running club does something similar as MoCos.......
    they have a 600/1200 mile "club/contest" each year.
    To be eligible, you have to ....
    1) be a member ($20/yr isn't bad)
    2) work x number of races
    3) cater y number of water stops
    4) remember to turn in your mileage each month ('s THIS requirement that seems to be the hardest to satisfy for some people, or so I hear. lol)

    At the end of each year, everyone who ran 600/1200 miles gets some decent swag

  • batchesbatches Littleton, COMember

    I made it a huge point this year to give back. My goal was to support 3 events. I've hit that already, and still doing more. I traveled to crew for a friend's swim, I manned the feeding station for a local 10K swim, and I helped out with registration for another local 3 mile swim. Later this year I plan to support 2 more local events and travel to offer kayak support for a third. Helping out is so much fun! It is definitely so very rewarding to give back!

  • Karl_KingeryKarl_Kingery Denver, COSenior Member

    batches said:
    I made it a huge point this year to give back. My goal was to support 3 events. I've hit that already, and still doing more. I traveled to crew for a friend's swim, I manned the feeding station for a local 10K swim, and I helped out with registration for another local 3 mile swim. Later this year I plan to support 2 more local events and travel to offer kayak support for a third. Helping out is so much fun! It is definitely so very rewarding to give back!

    @Batches, among others, have been a huge help on the Mountain Swim Series swims, one of which he refers to above. I am sure @emkhowley , @suziedods , @KNicholas, and other race directors will agree that volunteering makes organized open water swim races feasible. And it is worth reiterating that without volunteers, these swims would not happen.

    It is often a struggle finding enough volunteers to help with a race and one idea that has been very helpful for us in "recruiting" volunteers is to offer them an incentive. One way we have done this, is for MSS races, volunteers get a free entry to a later race. Another example: Boston Light Swim allows volunteers to bypass the lottery the following year (Guaranteeing a spot). While one option, or another, might not always be feasible, especially for "one-on-one" type marathon swims, I would like to encourage race directors/organizers to help give back to volunteers. Because you sure as hell owe them a lot and they certainly deserve it.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited July 2018

    @batches said: I made it a huge point this year to give back. My goal was to support 3 events.

    I love this idea of setting goals for swim support efforts.

    A related idea, I've been pursuing a personal challenge of observing/documenting swims in as many distinct bodies of water as I can. It's useful to learn from the local practices and experience of major sanction orgs with observer training programs (CSA, CSPF, CCSF, SBCSA, NYOW), but I think it deepens the documenter's wisdom to experience different waters and different challenges.

    So far I've documented swims in the Catalina Channel, Santa Barbara Channel, Estero Bay (San Luis Obispo, California), San Francisco Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Lake Champlain, and have crewed on two Manhattan swims. Later this year, looking forward to adding Lake Tahoe to the list, on a swim piloted by @Reptile.

  • phodgeszohophodgeszoho UKSenior Member

    Think it was more coincidence then planning but I have ended up crewing each of the swims I have successfully completed. English Channel, Loch Ness, Loch Awe and Loch Lomond. If I ever manage to complete North Channel then I will also try to go back and crew for that two.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    I have learned more from doing a couple observation stints than I ever would have learned on my own. There is a lot of value being on the crew side of things rather than in the water. But I like the idea of incentives because it's less subtle and might push someone to participate for the obvious reward.

  • SoloSolo B.C. CanadaSenior Member

    curly said:
    I have learned more from doing a couple observation stints than I ever would have learned on my own. There is a lot of value being on the crew side of things rather than in the water. But I like the idea of incentives because it's less subtle and might push someone to participate for the obvious reward.

    I still want a towel and a t-shirt though!!!

  • CathyInCACathyInCA Martinez, CASenior Member

    I am actually a late bloomer in this sport. Started out a few years ago just doing short swims and kayaking, crewing for you CRAZY people. I thoroughly enjoy crewing and swimming and continue to do both.

    As a crew support person you get to see the course from an entirely different perspective which I feel gives you as a swimmer a great advantage. Seeing back eddies and where currents are strongest helps me to be a better (albeit still SLOW) swimmer.

    @Solo if you volunteer at SERC you will almost always not only get great SWAG you also get your belly full of great food! Besides I always make sure my support crew gets the swag even if I have to pay for it!

    So far this season I've kayaked for several swims in Monterey Bay, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco Bay and will be crewing for a Swim around Manhattan next month. I'm sure there's more I have helped with that I haven't mentioned. Check with my friends and family they will tell you I'm hardly home! I'm always out either on a swim adventure myself or out helping someone make their dream swim come true. I LOVE this sport and am so very glad I found my people!

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    Its that time of year where everyone is signing up to swim...BUT how many of you are signing up to volunteer? Swimming does not happen unless we support each other. I don't care how fast you are, how long you've gone, what records you hold or how big your ego is - YOU owe your fellow swimmers! I'm sitting here and I've signed up to swim SCAR, 8Bridges, and Tahoe in 2020. I have also signed up to crew and/or observe Tampa Bay, multiple 20Bridges, Tahoe, a new island circumnavigation and its not even January yet. Come on people swim one less event and volunteer for one - I promise that you will get more than you give!!!

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