Can you actually swim the English Channel?

While there are hurdles to jump through, believe it or not, it’s been done – over 2,000 times, in fact.

The English Channel is the iconic body of water separating Britain from Europe. It has protected Britain from potential invasions over the centuries, it is the busiest sailing area in the world and a popular challenge for adventurous swimmers.

There are many ways to cross the English Channel (some quite cheap), but some of the most cheeky choose to swim! Swimming in the English Channel has become surprisingly common. According to the Telegraph as of August 30, 2018, 1,831 people have swum across the English Channel 2,369 times!

The first swimmers of the English Channel

The English Channel varies from 150 miles (0r 240 kilometres) wide to 21 miles (or 34 kilometres) at its narrowest point. In practice, due to tides etc., the actual distance to be covered is well over 21 miles.

For many years people have tried and failed to swim across the English Channel. The first successful attempt was by Matthew Webb in 1875, crossing in 21 hours and 45 minutes.

After this total of 80 unsuccessful attempts were made until Thomas William Burgess succeeded on September 6, 1911. He swam from Dover in England to Cape Gris Nez in 22 hours and 35 miles on his 16th attempt.

  • First success: Matthew Webb in 1875

Later, Henry Sullivan successfully swam the channel in 1923, but due to unfavorable tides and rough waters, it is estimated that he swam 56 miles or 90 kilometers.

The first woman to cross was Gertrude Ederle who swam from Gris Nez in France and arrived in Kent in England in 1926. Not only was she the first woman to do so, but she also set a record time of 14 hours and 39 minutes. She also had some problems with immigration when she arrived.

  • First lady : Gertrude Ederle in 1926

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Notable records

Many people have swum across the English Channel today – 63% of swimmers who have completed it are men. The last notable crossing was Sarah Thomas from the United States. She became the first person to swim across the channel four-way non-stop in 2019 (it took 54 hours and 10 minutes).

Some of the most notable record swims have been:

Fastest time:

  • For men: Trent Grimsey from Australia in 6 hours 55 minutes
  • For women: Yvetta Hlaváčová from the Czech Republic in 7 hours and 25 minutes
  • Two ways for men: New Zealand’s Philip Rush in 16 hours 10 minutes (also has the three fastest lanes)
  • Two ways for women: Susie Maroney of Australia in 17 hours 14 minutes

Most crossings:

  • Men: 34 By Kevin Murphy
  • Women: 44 By Chloe McCardel

Oldest crossings:

  • Man: Otto Thaning, 73 years old
  • Women: 71 year old Linda Ashmore

Youngest crossing:

  • Boy: 11 years (and 330 days) Thomas Gregory
  • girl : 12 years (and 118 days) Samantha Druce

The Channel Swimming Association and Rules

Believe it or not, there is even the Channel Swimming Association which was founded in 1927 and established the codes of rules for how to swim across the channel and what matters.

Swimming in the English Channel is complicated and there are a number of regulations and complications to consider in order to be officially considered to have swum in the English Channel.

One is not allowed to have any kind of artificial aid and one can only use glasses, a cap, a nose clip, earplugs and a sleeveless and legless costume. Since one cannot touch another human while swimming, food is passed to the swimmer by a long pole from the escort boat.

Swimmers are allowed to use grease for insulation and many choose to use goose grease. There are many other regulations and you can read all about them on the Channel Swimming Association website.

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Register to swim in the English Channel

You can actually register with them to cross the Channel. To register for a swim, follow the step by step guide listed on their website. They recommend everyone to read their website carefully before booking a swim.

it is also important to book your swim as early as possible, preferably the year before the proposed swim date. The most successful day to cross the English Channel is August 22. This is to get the best tides and the optimum window. They also note that the piots take the reservation 3 years in advance.

It is very important to work directly with the pilot and third parties should not be involved. The role of the pilot is to ensure that bathers are not affected by the 600 tankers and 200 ferries that cross the Channel each day.

The expenses are as follows:

  • Registration form : £35.00 ($47)
  • Registration for the one-way solo swim: Approximately £390.00 ($526) (covers one year membership fee, all administration and liaison costs and a designated official CSA observer)
  • CSA Certificate: £75 ($100)
  • Hiring a registered pilot and an escort boat: Approximately £3,000.00 ($4,050) (fees vary)

If all that sounds like hard work too much, consider taking a leisurely scuba diving excursion in Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon and see the Japanese fleet sunk in its watery tomb.

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