HOW TO: Marathon and Channel Swimming Swimmer and Crew Checklist (updated for 2013)

This list below was originally based on Freda Streeter’s English Channel check-list though it has evolved quite substantially.

I’ve reorganised the PDF by swimmer/crew/feeds/travel for ease of use. By the third version I added version numbers so you can keep track.

Major changes for June 2013 (Ver 3.0) include a new Travel section.

The list includes some things that Freda recommends and advises and is optimised for cool or cold water marathon swimming.

It also includes some optional but nonetheless useful items based on experience.

I’ve changed and added to it over the last couple of years and it’s now my personal check list and as such tends to evolve and change. (Items in blue are essential).

Some are very, very obvious but the dangerous things about check-list are forgetting to add the obvious and unspoken but essential, or not checking things off the check list.

Simplified PDF version without notes for direct printing.

Swimmer

  • Dry-bag for boat for swimmer clothes. (I use the large 44 litre one in the link).
  • Swimming Costumes.
  • Swimming Goggles and Spares: Minimum one pair each of clear and dark goggles (if you start in or swim into the dark you will need clear, you will need dark/tinted for bright sunlight).
  • Earplugs + spares.
  • Swim Cap and Spares. Use bright colours.
  • Towels. Apart from regular towels I’ve added both a travel micro-fibre towel and swimmer’s chamois towel for the many swims in Dover. I use a car-drying chamois, same product, quarter of the price!
  • Rain gear for swimmer.
  • Old warm, loose clothes for post-swim. (You will urinate heavily after the swim to eliminate intracellular fluids, so make your clothes are easy to open or lower. Remember if the boat is rough you may need to sit on a toilet).
  • Grease.
  • Light sticks - 4 or more (I use Adventure Lights, reusable, brighter and therefore safer and nothing difficult to dispose of afterwards). Test your batteries!
  • Safety pins for fixing lights.
  • Shoe organiser. Idea from Penny Palfrey, via English Channel Soloist Craig Morrison. Used to separate all the swimmer’s gear into individual compartments.

Crew

  • Foul weather gear for crew.
  • Blanket or Old Sleeping Bag.
  • Spare plastic Ziploc bags - I had some in my bag just in case I needed to take something last-minute out on the boat.
  • Food for your crew.
  • Latex gloves (or plastic bags) to apply grease.
  • String and/or Zip-ties because boats.
  • Duct-tape. Because you never know.
  • Make sure phones are set to auto select Networks before swim or they may lose cover and not know why.
  • Spare Carabiners – I got a bag of small mixed sizes for €5.
  • Bottled Water (Plenty) (Use only litre bottles; your crew cannot manage to pour from larger bottles in choppy water. (I used 1.5 litre bottles in MIMS and EC, no bother).
  • Chargers or extra batteries for phones and cameras on board. (Gábor uses a Power Monkey Solar charger).
  • (Underwater) Camera (with flash) to take on board. If conditions are right and you have a swimmer going to the beach with you they will need a waterproof camera.
  • Marker pens and masking tape. Masking tape makes a good base for writing on plastic bottles. Duct tape also works.
  • Wetsuit for support swimmers. It’s about the swimmer, not the crew. Best to stay warm to function best as crew.
  • SPOT GPS tracker. Visible to others. Test beforehand and get link. Most English Channel Pilots already have these but not all. They are now affordable and very valuable for engaging others in your swim.

Feeds and medical supplies

  • Feed schedule. I suggest you laminate it and bring copies and a pen to write on the laminate in case of rain.
  • Maxim (or whatever your choice of Carb is).
  • Measuring Scoop. I almost forgot this after putting my Maxim in plastic bags for ease of transportation.
  • Cups or Feeding Bottles. Mike Oram suggests plastic Milk Cartons as feed bottles. If using these, collect extra lids before you go as some will definitely get lost by the swimmer, and you want to keep salt water getting in the bottle.
  • Retractable Dog Leash or line, (as I previously suggested, the crew unspools it to feed the swimmer, easy and quick to retract). I’ve used it in the Channel in rough water, it works really well. Alternatively a Mason’s reel, fencing reel, kite reel. Anything to quickly spool out or reel in long lines. Make sure you have a spare backup line in case the first breaks (as happened to me). I’ve tested the dog-leash in the Channel and it  works really well with carabiners.
  • Fruit juice (Cordial, squash, whatever your choice of additive to feed is. I put my squash in a squeezy water bottle.)
  • Mouthwash (make sure your crew mix 50/50 or it will burn your delicate mouth. Delicate was on the original list, I imagine Freda (Streeter) writing that with a certain sense of humour about complaining swimmers. I use a 2:1 water/mouthwash mix, as 50/50 is too strong for me).
  • Tea Bags or Coffee.
  • Electrolyte. But with zero carbs. Maxim Electrolyte is zero carbs. I changed to Zyn with Caffeine for MIMS, it was better.
  • Chocolate Bar and Cadbury’s Chocolate Rolls, Milky ways go down a treat and do not stick to the roof of your mouth. (I didn’t use either of these – these are a real Freda thing. Some use Fry’s Turkish Delight or other for same reason.) Choice maybe peaches or Kendall Mint Cake etc instead.
  • Ibuprofen. (Anti-inflammatory).
  • Paracetamol (Solpadeine, Neurofen or similar stronger painkiller for the latter half of swim).
  • Anti-histamine (I’ve never tested nor used these during swims).
  • I also bring Colpermin Peppermint capsules to stop any potential pre-diarrhoea stomach spasms. They work really well and you don’t taste the peppermint.
  • Immodium or something to stop actual diarrhoea – Just in case.
  • Personal medication. Plan in advance. For example as an asthmatic, I discussed with my GP who prescribed a spare antibiotic to take just in case I got a chest infection since I can recognise the early symptoms.
  • Suntan lotion. Discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum on this subject amongst people who have greater sun protection requirement than Irish & UK folk.
  • Masking tape and permanent markers – masking tape is useful for labelling bottles that won’t take ink easily.
  • Dryboard or chalkboard and enough dryboard markers. If they get in any way damp they stop working quickly. You’ll need dry paper towel or similar to wipe & dry the board. Never used chalkboard on a boat myself, could be even more difficult in wet weather?
  • Funnel for mixing feeds. Make sure it has a wide neck, you can cut the top off a plastic One Litre bottle. If doing so make sure the funnel is slightly smaller than the bottle it is going into!
  • Wet cloth with plenty of washing up liquid, tied into a plastic bag, just in case, you or crew might want it after swim, useful for getting any grease off hands.
  • Whiteboard and whiteboard markers.
  • Torch for signalling for night feeds. (Maglite Mini LED etc).
  • More water and Maxim than you think you need. My view is enough for at least 6 hours (one tide) extra swimming if doing a Channel swim , but I obviously have a specific reason, it’s what I took and we were almost at the end of it for the English Channel. Boats DO NOT carry excess water, contrary to what many landlubbers think.
  • Notebook and pen for your crew chief. Tell them to record everything. 

Travel (new section for 2013 – mostly optional)

  • Power strip/power adaptor (The single most valuable new addition to the list). Many places you stay with crew will not have enough power outlets.  One extra 4-socket power adaptor solved this problem.
  • Microfibre travel towels as outlined above. Essential if you are in Dover and the weather is rubbish, and you are trying to get towels dry.
  • Unlocked mobile phone. If you can borrow/get an unlocked phone you can just purchase credit for anywhere. Mobile phone bills can be a big problem returning home from a foreign swim. For English Channel / North Channel / Gibraltar you will need credit from both countries.
  • Unlocked wireless broadband adaptor OR Android smartphone with Hotspot adaptor.
  • National flag
  • Twitter / Google+ / blog / Facebook passwords
  • Thong sandals (Dover only, but essential for swimmers)
  • Country map. Don’t rely on GPS.
  • Parking permits / tickets (for duration of swim)
  • Keypod or SurfLock or similar (lockable safe for safely attaching keys to car during training swims)
  • Folding chair(s) & bungee. Some English Channel pilot boats don’t have anywhere to sit comfortably on deck. A folding chair might be essential for some crew members. Only useful of course in appropriate weather. Use the bungee to hold it place against the superstructure.

Related Articles:

Here’s a simplified PDF with all the extra notes removed for ease of use and direct printing.
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8 thoughts on “HOW TO: Marathon and Channel Swimming Swimmer and Crew Checklist (updated for 2013)”

  1. “(Items in blue are essential)”… Are you serious?! I mean it: ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is one of the worst blogs I have ever read about swimming the English Channel, but this list… blimey! How wrong can you get!

    1. This blog isn’t about the English Channel, that’s only a small part of it. But please feel free to make any suggestions to the list based on your own Channel experience back in ’99, I always like making improvements to the checklist.

    1. Thanks Ella. I keep making very minor adjustments, but I suspect this might actually be about my involvement in the Diana Nyad swim review panel last week. Some people are looking for an excuse, some don’t need any excuse. I did say congratulations on your Solo on Twitter didn’t I?

  2. Seems like a great list to me!
    I’ve been working on a few lists of my own as I’ve been making the leap from mid-distance OW to marathon swimming….one suggestion I had from a friend was to have sections/color coded items for cold/warm weather or salt/fresh water swims. For example, a sea lice/jellyfish lotion I use is ESSENTIAL for warm/salty condition, but useless other times, a special type of hot tea is essential for a cold water swim. So I’m thinking of making a list for basic, need all the time, never change, and then mini lists for certain conditions.
    In Swim Around Charleston (12 miles with current) I did the whole thing with feeds just being thrown to me…I’ll never do that again. I would agree that some sort of system for feeds is essential, not that it is not possible to take them without something, but you end up wasting too much energy!

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