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Lane etiquette for open water swimmers

We wade into this topic with some trepidation as nothing seems to provoke debate and heated exchanges among swimmers like lane etiquette. However, we also take the view that every pool swimmer is a potential (or actual) open water swimmer, and every open water swimmer is a potential reader of H2Open Magazine, so we try to see all sides.

As the prospect for outside waters in the UK warming up any time soon still seems remote and most people wanting to swim any distance will be confined to the pool for a while longer, we thought it might be fun to stir up the topic of lane etiquette once again.

We’re going to start by making the sweeping generalisation that there are only two types of swimmer: ‘plodders’ and ‘trainers’.

Plodders are those that turn up and swim for a specified number of lengths or period of time without ever taking a break, changing pace or attempting anything that might improve their technique. Trainers have a plan, swim intervals, look serious and fret about things like strokes per length and heart rates. You probably know what type you are.

Let’s have a look at what these two types of swimmer might think of each other.




Swimming attire

“It’s obscene! What those guys wear leaves hardly anything to the imagination.”

“How do they expect to swim any faster if they insist on wearing parachutes?”


“What is all that stuff those guys clutter up the end of the pool with?”

“If they worked on their kick/pull/catch (whatever) they could go so much faster.”

Pacing and interval training

“If they didn’t race up and down so much they wouldn’t have to rest all the time and it would all run a lot smoother in the lane.”

“How do they expect to get any fitter if they just plod along and never exert themselves?”


“What is that weird stuff they’re doing now?”

“Don’t they want to get better or ever think about how they swim?”

Nutrition / hydration

“They’re like babies, always needing a bottle to suck on.”

“I need an isotonic drink every 15 minutes and an energy gel every 30 minutes otherwise the world will end.”

Giving way

“What is it with those guys? It’s like they think they own the pool. First of all they race past, then they stop, then they barge in front again. The lifeguards should do something.”

“Has no one ever told them about lane etiquette? You’re supposed to give way to a faster swimmer. Why do they swim in the fast lane anyway? The lifeguards should do something.”

Lane designations

“I’ve swum in this lane for 20 years and never had any problems. I don’t see why I should move for anyone. The lifeguards should tell those people to chill out.”

“What’s the problem with these people? Can’t they read? The lifeguards should tell those people to swim in the slow lane where they belong.”

Stretching / limbering up

“I don’t know how they’ve got the nerve to pose at the end of pool like that. I suppose they think they’re cool (or hot).”

“If I stand here swinging my arms a bit maybe they’ll realise I’m serious about training and keep out of my way.”

Pushing off in front of a faster swimmer

“I’m not stopping for anyone. I need to do my 40 lengths, no matter what.”

“Get out of the way otherwise I’m going to miss my turn-around time by 2 seconds and my day will be ruined, if not my entire season.”

On the other type of swimmer

“Arrogant and selfish”

“Clueless and selfish”


We’re sure you can think of many more. Unfortunately many swimmers (of both types) see things more easily from their own point of view than that of other swimmers. Hopefully, whatever type of swimmer you are (or even if you think you don’t think you fit into one of our two neat categories) the above will encourage you to try to see things occasionally from the perspective of other pool users. As we’ve said before, a smile and a friendly word can work wonders. And if, by some strange chance, you find yourself falling into conversation with another swimmer, remember to tell them about H2Open Magazine. We try to write features relevant to anyone with an interest in open water swimming, whether it’s a quick wild swimming dip, a marathon challenge or a swimming holiday.

Find the easiest way for you to read H2Open.

Finally, do let us know of any topics you think worthy of a blog post, newsletter article or magazine feature.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.