Canal swimming

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Canal swimming is a special type of long-distance swimming in a waterway called a canal , either as a crossing ( English Channel ) or along it (see Other canal swimming ).

Canal swimming route between Dover and Cap Griz-Nez through the English Channel

English Channel Swimming


As a rule, the route from Dover ( England ) to Calais or Cap Griz-Nez ( France ) is swum, with 32.31 kilometers the shortest distance between the two coasts . The distance actually covered is often much longer, as swimmers in the English Channel are exposed to strong currents , not least caused by the tidal range . Due to the stricter legislation in France, hardly any tests are started from Calais.

With around 500 ships a day, the English Channel is one of the busiest waterways in the world. This is sometimes not entirely unproblematic for swimmers. To make matters worse, even in summer the water temperature hardly rises above 17 ° C and therefore there is a risk of hypothermia , and weather, wind and currents are often subject to unpredictable changes.

In addition to the Dover-Calais solo route, the Dover-Calais-Dover double distance is also swum. There have also been triple crossings several times. Every year now over 100 people try to swim the English Channel solo and in a “conventional way”, i. H. To cross without a wetsuit and swimming aid, there are increasingly relay teams. By mid-2011, over 1217 swimmers had managed a total of 1660 solos.


From 1927 to 1999 all official crossing attempts were monitored by the Channel Swimming Association ( CSA ) and escorted by boats in order to carry out necessary rescue measures and to record times and records . The CSA is based in Aylesbury ( United Kingdom ). In November 1999 the original CSA was transformed into today's CSA Ltd, whereupon former members of the original CSA formed the “Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation” (CS&PF) in 2000, so that two organizations have been monitoring and certifying the channel crossings since then. The CS&PF was founded specifically to accompany unorthodox canal crossings.


The first successful English Channel swimmer is the English captain Matthew Webb , who swam the Channel from Dover to Calais in August 1875 at the age of 27. Since he had calculated the sea ​​state and current incorrectly, he covered well over 70 km and needed more than 21 hours. He was accompanied by a boat from Dover on which were six helpers and four journalists from the Illustrated London News . Through the coverage of this newspaper he gained some fame among the British public, in 1883 he was killed trying to swim through the Niagara Whirlpool Rapids .

In fact, Webb was not the first canal swimmer. As early as 1815, the Italian soldier of Napoleon I , Jean Marie Saletti from Malesco , escaped capture by the English at the Battle of Waterloo by jumping overboard shortly before the transport ship reached Dover. He swam all night towards the French coast, where a fishing boat picked him up near Boulogne . This canal crossing was never recognized, however, as Saletti had formally not correctly adhered to the start and destination.

Even before Matthew Webb, in May 1875, the American lifeguard Paul Boyton swam the English Channel. However, he wore an air-filled rubber suit and used a paddle during his 23-hour traverse. In 1911, the Englishman Thomas Burgess was the first to swim twice the distance in his 19th attempt. He needed over 23 hours for the Dover-Calais-Dover route.

The Australian professional swimmer Annette Kellerman tried several times to swim the English Channel around 1915, always in vain. Nonetheless, she became a celebrity in the United States through show swimming. The then still young film industry in the USA discovered her as an actress.

The first woman who managed to cross a canal by swimming is the sport swimmer, multiple world record holder and Olympic champion ( Paris 1924 ) Gertrude Ederle (1906-2003) in the annals. In 1926 she only needed 14:31 hours, almost two hours less than the previous men's best time. The company was funded by the Daily News and the Chicago Tribune , which ensured a triumphant reception for the swimmer in the USA.

In July 2006 the British comedian David Walliams (known from " Little Britain ") swam the English Channel in 10 hours and 35 minutes for the organization Sport Relief and raised over half a million pounds for an orphanage in Ethiopia.

On September 9, 2010, at 16 years of age, the youngest Czech so far, Lenka Štěrbová, mastered the route from Dover to the Cap Gris-Nez peninsula - after a start shortly after 3:30 in the morning at 17 ° C water temperature in just 9:22 hours. Parents and siblings had kept them happy with funny drawings that they showed from the support boat.

In the early morning of August 13, 2012, Thomas Ladurner from Merano starts with swimming trunks, swimming cap and swimming goggles in Samphire Hoe, on the coast of England and reaches mainland France 11 hours later and 4 kg lighter at Cap Blanc-Nez. 34 km as the crow flies corresponded to about 45 km against the flowing water.

British extreme endurance athlete Nick Thomas died at the end of August 2016. Starting in Dover after 16 hours in the water without a wetsuit, he passed out 1.2 km from his destination on the French coast, was pulled out of the water and given medical treatment, but died the next day. In 2014, he was the 19th person to complete the “Arch2Arc-Triathlon” (from Marble Arch to Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile ) in 80:50 hours: A run of 140 km in England was followed by swimming through the canal and then finally 290 km of cycling in France.

Official records

Official records registered by the Channel Swimming Association Ltd (CSA) and the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CS&PF):

  • With 43 crossings in the years 1982 to 2008, the record of most crossings is held by the British Alison Streeter - including a non-stop triple canal crossing in 1990 in 34:40 hours. The man with the most crossings is the Briton Kevin Murphy , who swam the English Channel 34 times between 1969 and 2006 (Michael Read 33 times). The 35-year-old Australian swimmer Chloe McCardel successfully swam the English Channel from England to France for the 35th time on August 16, 2020.
  • In 1978 the American Penny Lee Dean improved the old record for a crossing by more than an hour with a sensational time of 7:40 hours.
  • It was not until 16 years later, in 1994, that the American Chad Hundeby managed to undercut the time. He needed 7:17 hours for the route.
  • Since August 24, 2007 the record has been held by the Bulgarian Petar Stoychev , who needed 6: 57.50 hours.

More records

On August 31, 2011, at the age of 70 years and 115 days, the Briton Roger Allsop set the record as the oldest canal swimmer when he reached the French coast after 17:51 hours. George Brunstad, the uncle of actor Matt Damon , has held this record since August 28, 2004 .

On August 9, 2007, the Berliner Margit Bohnhoff became the best German swimmer with a swimming time of 11:40 hours.

On September 18, 2010, the four- amputee Frenchman Philippe Croizon swam the English Channel in just over 13 hours. Croizon had lost his arms and legs in an accident 16 years earlier and is the first person with such a disability to be able to cross the canal.

In September 2019, the American Sarah Thomas was the first to swim the channel four times in a row in 54 hours.

The team with the most canal crossings is the Serpentine Swimming Club in London, which also included Alison Streeter (Queen of the Channel with 43 solos) and Kevin Murphy (King of the Channel with 34 solos), with the International Sri Chinmoy in second place Marathon team with 46 solo crossings, including 7 Germans (as of September 2014).


In 1952 the life of the Australian Annette Kellerman was honored with the film Million Dollar Mermaid with Esther Williams in the lead role.

In 1953, the feature film Dangerous when wet was released in American cinemas. Esther Williams played the daughter of a farmer who wants to swim the English Channel to save her family from poverty.

In 2004, Jörg Adolph's film Kanalschwimmer received great attention at the International Documentary Film Festival in Munich . In the autumn of the same year, ZDF and 3sat broadcast the film in which Adolph accompanied the swimmers José Mataafá from Samoa , Bryan Finlay from Canada and Christof Wandratsch from Germany on their attempts to cross the English Channel with the camera. While Mataafá gave up after 10 hours and the 60-year-old Finlay had to be taken out of the water shortly before the French coast after 21 hours, the multiple long-distance swimming world champion Wandratsch managed to cross the English Channel in 7:20 hours.

In 2005, the Scottish actor Peter Mullan played an older shipyard worker from Glasgow in the English feature film On a clear Day , who after his dismissal swims the English Channel in search of meaning.

In the 2008 film The Strange Case of Benjamin Button , a 68-year-old swims the English Channel after failing as a young woman.

The French feature film Welcome (2009) is about the fate of a 17-year-old Iraqi refugee who is barred from all legal and illegal routes from France to England. He decides to swim the distance and drowns.

In 2013, the production company Zum Goldenen Lamm released the feature film The woman who dares , in which a woman decides against treatment for her cancer in order to make her childhood dream of swimming the English Channel come true.

Crossing other canals and straits

A swim across the Bosphorus has been taking place in Istanbul since 1989 , with 2,400 swimmers - professionals and amateurs - taking part in 2018.

The English Channel is a stretch of the Ocean's Seven , a 7-part long-distance challenge for swimmers, and is considered the equivalent of the Seven Summits (highest peaks on any continent) in mountaineering.

Other canal swimming

Halle / Saale

From 2001 to 2007, the SSC Halle ( Saxony-Anhalt ) held a canal swim for the Halloren Cup twice a year on the city's 35 meter wide and 4 meter deep regatta channel. The competition courses were 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 and rarely swum 10,000 meters (10 km) long.

It took place regularly on the 3rd weekend in July and on the 1st weekend in September (here only the 3000 m) as part of the Halloren Cup. This also included the “horseshoe swimming” on August 2nd Sunday.

Hamm / Westphalia

The German Underwater Club ( DUC ) Hamm carries out a canal swim every year in June or July. The route length is 2,000 meters.


On the regatta course of the Osnabrück Rowing Association ( ORV ), a canal swim has been taking place every summer since 2003 on the Osnabrück branch canal . The competition route extends from the Hollage lock to the ORV boathouse for around 3,500 meters.

Rhine-Herne Canal


Every year in June or July since 1981 , the canal swimming organized by the German Life Rescue Society ( DLRG ) has started in Gelsenkirchen on the training course of the local canoe club in the Rhine-Herne Canal . The competition courses are between 200 and 1,200 meters long, depending on the age group.

Hildesheim / Sehnde

Since 2006, the canal swimming, also organized by the DLRG, has been taking place on the Hildesheim branch canal every July . The competition distance is 3,600 meters (short distance) or 13,600 meters (long distance). There is a distance of 1,000 meters for children.

Sète (France)

In Sète on the Mediterranean Sea , the partner community of Neuburg an der Donau , an international canal swimming is started every year as part of the St. Louis Festival, alongside other competitions. The venue is the ship canal that runs through the old town and connects the Bassin du Sète ( port ) with the Mediterranean Sea.

Scheerwolde (Netherlands)

An international canal swim will be held in the Dutch town of Scheerwolde in June. The competition course is 1,250 meters long.


Since 2005, the DLRG Munich has organized the Isar swim every year at the beginning of the Oktoberfest in Munich. Because of the water quality, this event was not possible for a long time.


  • Philip Wenzel: Spiroergometry in swimming: comparison of performance physiological parameters and the economy between canal swimming and free swimming . Dissertation . University of Freiburg (Breisgau), 2003, DNB 968845304 .
  • Swantje Scharenberg : Swimming in a canal - a question of national pride, gender hierarchy and money? A historical-anthropological view from the field of sport. In: Culture Society Everyday Life. Volume 5, Issue 3, Austria 1997, pp. 463–476.
  • Martin Krauss: Swimming. History - culture - practice . Verlag Die Werkstatt, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-89533-365-4 .
  • Wolfgang Pahncke: Swimming in the past and present . Sportverlag, Berlin 1979, DNB 790346974 .
  • Marcia Cleveland: Dover Solo: Swimming the English Channel . MMJ Press, Canada 1999, ISBN 0-9672091-0-2 .
  • Margaret A. Jarvis: Captain Webb and 100 years of Channel Swimming . David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England 1975, ISBN 0-7153-6995-4 .
  • Sam Rockett: It's Cold in the Channel . Hutchinson, London 1956, OCLC 314610313 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Channel swimming statistics & information accessed on on March 9, 2014
  2. Lists of successful channel crossings of the "Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CS&PF)"
  3. Teenage girl Štěrbová defeats the English Channel in class Radio Prague,, December 1, 2010, accessed January 3, 2017.
  4. Stefan9212: Thomas Ladurner defeats the English Channel youtube video (3:46), October 10, 2012, accessed January 3, 2017.
  5. When crossing the English Channel: extreme swimmer dies after 16 hours in the water, August 30, 2016, accessed January 3, 2017.
  6. Men's record broken: woman swam 35 times through the English Channel (August 16, 2020)
  7. Петър Стойчев., accessed on July 29, 2010 (Russian / Cyrillic, homepage of Peter Stojtschew).
  8. ^ Michael Oram: Bulgarian Petar Stoychev Sets English Channel Record. Sports Publications International, August 26, 2007, accessed June 17, 2019 .
  9. Channel swimming records accessed on on March 9, 2014
  10. Quadruple amputee swims through the English Channel . Die Welt, September 19, 2010
  11. 37-year-old swims through the English Channel four times - almost without a break. In: , September 17, 2019.
  12. Long Distance Swimmers. In: Retrieved May 2, 2015 .
  13. ^ Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team Channel Swimmers List. In: Retrieved October 25, 2013 .
  14. 2,400 swimmers cross the Bosporus, July 22, 2018, accessed July 22, 2018.
  15. 8. Channel swimming III. Halloren Cup open water swimming. Sportmarketing Halle Agentur, September 3, 2006, archived from the original on October 28, 2006 ; Retrieved July 29, 2010 .