Swims

From the Puget Sound to glacial lakes, the Pacific Northwest provides an endless number of places to swim.

Marathon swimming has been a part of the Pacific Northwest since the 1950s. NOWSA is the official sanctioning body for marathon swims in the Pacific Northwest, and currently sanctions seven swim routes.

Swim Route Distance
Strait of Juan de Fuca Vancouver Island, BC – Olympic Peninsula, WA 16.8 km 10.4 mi
Bainbridge Island Circumnavigation around Bainbridge Island, WA 41.0 km 25.5 mi
The Bert Thomas Swim Lincoln Park, Seattle, WA – Old Town, Tacoma, WA 30.2 km 18.8 mi
Lake Washington, length Kenmore, WA – Renton, WA 29.7 km 18.4 mi
The Amy Hiland Swim Bremerton, WA – Alki Beach, WA 16.8 km 10.4 mi
Mercer Island Marathon Swim around Mercer Island, WA 20.0 km 12.5 mi
Maury Island Circumnavigation around Maury Island, Vashon, WA 22.8 km 14.2 mi

Download a KMZ file of all routes.

Don’t see a route that interests you? NOWSA is seeking swimmers interested in Firsts. Contact us and let’s get planning.


Strait of Juan de Fuca – 16.8 km

One of the two “Toughest Swims in the World,” according to Wind, Waves, and Sunburn, A Brief History of Marathon Swimming

The history of swimming the Strait is the history of marathon swimming in the Pacific Northwest. Beginning in the mid 1950s, swimmers came from all over. Legends and locals alike, one after another, took their turn at the Strait. Finally, in 1956, Bert Thomas made it across, followed by only four other successful swims in that decade. Over and over again, the papers reported the reasons for aborted attempts: cold, currents, weather. It isn’t long, but the Strait is a challenge unlike any other marathon swim.

What to expect

Temperature: 47 to 51F

Tides: East-west currents will shape the route and determine start times. Near-shore eddies can be strong and difficult to predict.

Weather: Force 5-6 winds are very common in summer, and unpredictable fog can severely restrict visibility. Anticipate ocean swells, wind waves, and overcast skies.

Swimmer notes: Shortest route is not between accessible points, actual distance could be greater than 20km. Swims likely to start and/or end on rocky cliffs. Border clearances extremely difficult without CBP/CBSA pre-clearance program (NEXUS, or Global Entry + CANPASS); expect four to six months for clearances for US, Canadian citizens.

results from past swims | photos on Facebook

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Bainbridge Island circumnavigation – 41.0 km

Bainbridge Island sits in the Puget Sound in sight of Downtown Seattle. Accessible only by ferry from the east and bridge from the north, it is a quiet island home to only about 20,000 humans. Twice a day, the tides move in and around the island rushing to places east and west, much the way commuters rush across the island heading elsewhere.

The swim around Bainbridge is divided into two parts: the warm half on west side and the cold half in the main channel, the half with a headwind and the half with a tailwind, the calm and the rough halves. A swimmer will face almost every condition the Puget Sound can offer, for better or worse.

What to expect

Temperature: 52 to 56F on Port Orchard (east) side, 56 to 64F on west side.

Tides: Ebb-flood currents dictate start times. Swim must be timed with strong currents at Agate Pass and Rich Pass.

Weather: Prevailing North-South winds may both help and hinder a swim. Fog can be thick along east side of island.

Swimmer notes: Coordination with WS Ferries required in ferry lanes at Rich Pass and Eagle Harbor.

results from past swims

swimroute-bainbridge

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The Bert Thomas Swim – 30.2 km

A year after completing the Strait, Bert Thomas set out for another first. On his third try, he successfully swam from Fauntleroy to his hometown of Tacoma, coming ashore to great his mother and 5,000 onlookers.

What to expect

Temperature: 52 to 58F

Tides: Ebb-flood currents dictate start times. Swim must be timed with strong currents at Agate Pass and Rich Pass.

Weather: Prevailing North-South winds may both help and hinder a swim. Fog can be thick along east side of island.

Swimmer notes: Shortest route is subject to adverse currents. Actual distance could be greater than 35km. Don’t expect 5,000 onlookers.

results from past swims

swimroute-bertthomas

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Lake Washington, length – 29.7 km

Lake Washington is the other liquid boundary to the Seattle metropolitan area. Two floating bridges connect Seattle to the East side, leaving the lake unobstructed otherwise.

What to expect

Temperature: 60 to 75F.

Tides: None.

Weather: Prevailing North-South winds.

Swimmer notes: Course is restricted to main channels at two floating bridges. Mercer Island can be passed on east or west side.

results from past swims

swimroute-lakewashignton

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The Amy Hiland swim – 16.8 km

On 2 August 1959, Amy Hiland completed the first swim from Bremerton to Alki Light. Three years earlier, Amy Hiland was the first woman to swim the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

This 10.4 mile swim follows one of the Puget Sound’s busy ferry routes through Rich Pass between a major naval ship building town and Seattle’s first European settlement. Rich Pass is home to fast currents and many pinnipeds, and leads out to one of the deepest spots in the Puget Sound before crossing the shipping channel just off Alki Light.

What to expect

Temperature: 52 to 62F

Tides: Strong ebb/flood currents in Rich Pass should assist swimmer is used properly, and determine swim start time. Weak ebb/flood current in shipping channel.

Weather: Main channel subject to prevailing North-South winds, typically 0 to 10 kts in summer. Hills around Rich Pass provide good shelter from wind, but may create thick fog in some conditions.

Swimmer notes: Rich Pass eddies make for cold, turbulent water. Coordination with WS Ferries and USCG required in shipping lanes.

results from past swims

swimroute-amyhiland

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Mercer Island Marathon Swim – 20.0 km

Mercer Island sits in the southern half of Lake Washington. It is home to a lot of expensive houses and is connected to the mainland by I-90. This is the perfect swim for a late spring or late autumn English Channel qualifying swim.

What to expect

Temperature: 45F (winter) to 75F (summer)

Tides: None.

Weather: Prevailing North-South winds.

Swimmer notes: Lake Washington is a popular boating area in the summer and the shoreline is crowded with private docks.

results from past swims | photos on Facebook

swimroute-mercerisland

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Maury Island Circumnavigation – 22.8 km

Maury Island is the eastern half of what is commonly known Vashon Island. It sits in the Puget Sound between Seattle and Tacoma, with Quartermaster Harbor on its west side between it and Vashon Island. The swim starts and ends on a man-made isthmus near the town of Portage, and passes by Point Robinson Lighthouse. Orcas are frequently spotted from this lighthouse.

What to expect

Temperature: 45F to 55F on east side, up to mid 60s in Harbor.

Tides: Strong flood and ebb on east side with some eddies at and around Pt Robinson. Weaker flood and ebb in Quartermaster Harbor.

Weather: Prevailing North-South winds with wind waves likely on east side.

Swimmer notes: USCG coordination required to round Pt Robinson and encroach on  southbound shipping lane. There was also that one incident with the UFOs.

results from past swims

swimroute-mauryisland

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