Slide 1

History of the Channel Swimming Association

The Channel Swimming Association was formed in early 1927 when fewer than 10 swimmers had successfully swum the English Channel.

We are a non-profit making organisation. None of our revenue is accessible to any privately owned commercial enterprise. All income is applied solely for the benefit of Channel Swimming and our Membership.

Our 2012 Handbook is intended to give you a brief insight into what the Association does, why it exists and how we promote the interests of channel swimmers today.

The Official Channel Swimming Association Record Books list and detail all the Swims which have been authenticated and observed by the Association since 1927 to date and include the 8 swims made prior to 1927, which we were able to authenticate in those early years. We appreciate that some persons may claim to have swum outside of our Association

In December 1926, Mr Alfred Jonas, the Hon. Secretary of the Webb Memorial Fund wrote as follows:

"Means are now being discussed by several men interested in swimming, to prevent this fine achievement of swimming the channel from being ruined by these artificial means and lack of investigation, and to ensure that the course from England to France shall be the accepted one, it has been decided to form an Association, namely the 'Channel Swimming Association' to draw up a code of rules governing Channel swimming".

Those wishing to associate themselves with the new movement and form the committee included Mr George Rope, Past President of the ASA, and President of the Otter S.C., Mr. H T Bretton, Past President of the ASA, and England’s representative on the International Swimming Federation, Mr H W Jones, Past President of the ASA, Mr J M Dick and Alfred Jonas (Founder of the Webb Memorial)”. Swimmers William Burgess, Montague Holbein, Jabez Wolffe and Mr Hughes of the Dover Standard also expressed their willingness to join the committee.

Since March 1927, Cross­ Channel Swims have been organised and regulated by the Channel Swimming Association and all Swims officially observed by its designated Officials have been faithfully recorded.

Many Long-Distance Swimmers strive to join the ranks of the famous few, who have conquered "The Channel" in the Strait of Dover. To have a successful Swim officially ratified by the CSA and recorded in the Association's Official Handbook represents the highest pinnacle of success. But although occasionally swimmers do make their attempts outside of the Association, claims to have swum 'outside of the CSA' are not recorded, and are not afforded Official Recognition by the Channel Swimming Association. Fortunately, the proper registration procedure is very straightforward and Channel Swimming Association Staff and Members are there to assist you in every way.

Our Constitution allows us the flexibility to be able to make provision for the many differing needs of all bona-fide Swimmers - but our Swim Rules are, as you might expect, very strict and traditional standards are vigorously upheld. One place where we do now differ from our founding fathers is in the acceptance of France/England crossings. These gentlemen were very fixed in their ideas that a Channel Swim must be undertaken under the same conditions and especially in the same direction as Capt. Webb. Impressed as they were with the wonderful records from Cap Gris Nez, they claimed there was no comparison with the England/France crossing. They were quick to remind us that Webb’s feat was not equalled until Ted Temme made his crossing 59 years later in 1934. Even today, the England/France crossing is accepted as being the more difficult route.

At the present time the French Coastguard Authority, (CROSS, Gris Nez), do not allow swims to start from the French coast.

In 1999 the members of the Channel Swimming Association voted for the Association to become a non-profit making organisation limited by guarantee and this was put into effect.

The Dover Strait

The 'Dover Strait' is a narrow area of water between the English Channel and the North Sea. The water flows in from the English Channel for approximately 6 hours on the FLOOD TIDE to spread out in the North Sea, then stops, turns around through 180°, and flows back from the North Sea for approximately 6.5 hours on the EBB TIDE to spread out in the English Channel (imagine the old fashioned hour glass with the sand flowing through the restriction in the middle). As an approximate guide we can say that, at Dover:

  • The FLOOD TIDE flows from the South West from 1.5 hours before HIGH WATER to 4 hours after HIGH WATER DOVER (followed by a short period of 'Slack' water).
  • The EBB TIDE flows from the North East from 4.5 hours after HIGH WATER to 2 hours before HIGH WATER DOVER (followed by a short period of 'Slack' water).

Because of this movement of water from one place to another, a large volume of the sea must 'squeeze' back and forth through the narrow Dover Strait - so there are strong tidal flows and a large rise and fall in the depth of water between High and Low tide. To complicate things a little more, the position of the moon relative to the earth and the sun affects the gravitational pull that is moving the water. When the sun, moon and earth are in line we have maximum tides known as SPRING TIDES. This is every 14 days (on the new moon or the full moon). When the moon is at 90° to the earth, we have minimum tides known as NEAP TIDES. This is every 14 days (when the moon is in its first and third quarter). Thus we have 14 day cycles with the tides going from 'Springs' to 'Neaps' and back to 'Springs'.

  • High water (Springs) are at approximately midday and midnight (GMT)
  • High water (Neaps) are at approximately 6am and 6pm (GMT).
  • Mean High Water Springs is when the height of water at High Tide, Dover, is 6.7 metres.
  • Mean High Water Neaps is 5.3 metres.

A general guide: Spring tides are 6 metres or more and Neap tides are 6 metres or less.

As the tidal cycle is a little over 12 hours from one high water to next, the times of high water change every day - getting later as the days progress.

When consulting tide tables, remember they may be in GMT, you must add one hour for British Summer Time.

Most swims take place on the weaker Neap tides. The steadier the tide, the longer the period of slack water when the tide turns - and the slower the tidal flow. But the major factor on any Swim is the weather - and good weather on a Spring tide gives the faster swimmer an opportunity for an attempt. However, local water currents on 'Springs' are more changeable and run faster - and making landfall is much more difficult - so such Swims require more planning by the Pilot and the Swimmer. 'Springs' are much less suitable for the slower swimmer and more suited to Relays.

Starting & finishing Points: The shortest distance across the Channel is from Shakespeare Beach (Between Dover and Folkestone) to Cap Gris Nez (the headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne). Most England/France swims start from Samphire Hoe or Shakespeare Beach between one hour before High Water and one hour after High Water, although the Pilots do start at other times and places, depending on the tide, the weather conditions, and the swimmer’s ability. France/England Swims, (no longer sanctioned by modern regulations), used to start from the vicinity of Cap Gris Nez. The traditional start time from France was about 3 to 4 hours before high water, although this also varied considerably depending on the tide, weather, Swimmer and Pilot.

A Chart of the Dover Strait.

Chart of the Dover Strait

The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with approximately 500 vessels movements every day ... and there are ferries, hovercraft, sea-cats and jetfoils crossing between England and France at very regular intervals. Because of this, International Shipping Lanes have been agreed and their areas marked on the charts. On the English side we have the 'South West Lane' which is for vessels travelling down Channel to the Atlantic. On the French side we have the 'North East Lane' for vessels which are travelling up to the North Sea areas.

Crossing from Dover there is the English Inshore Traffic Zone which is about 5 nautical miles wide, followed by the 'South West Lane' which is approximately 4 nautical miles wide. In the middle is an area known as the Separation Zone which is one nautical mile wide. Then there is the 'North East Lane' which is approximately 5 nautical miles wide, followed by the French Inshore Traffic Zone which is 3 nautical miles+ (depending on where you are) to the French beaches.

The English Coastguard, stationed at Langdon Battery Dover, and the French Coastguard, stationed at C.R.O.S.S. Cap Gris Nez, keep radar and VHF watch on the whole of this area liaising with the vessels using the Channel. They broadcast navigational bulletins every half hour and log vessels using the lanes to co-ordinate ship movements and to monitor safety. In these announcements they warn shipping of the presence of Cross Channel Swimmers, and give the latest known positions of our Escort Vessels, all of which are equipped with AIS.

Channel Swims differ from other swims of this distance by their complexity and the local environment. Some of the difficulties are highlighted in the sections on the Channel Swimming association web site on 'Training', 'Course' and ‘Weather’. There are hazards such as jellyfish, seaweed, flotsam and jetsam (rubbish and timbers, etc). Most particularly, we have to navigate safely across the Commercial Shipping Lanes - and give way to most other vessels in the Strait and there is an element of luck involved in getting everything to fall right on the day.

Satellite view from Wikipedia

Satellite View of the Dover Strait

The Ray & Audrey Scott Queen of the Channel® Trophy

The Derek Turner Queen of the Channel trophy The Derek Turner Queen of the Channel trophy

The original Queen of the Channel® trophy, The Derek Turner Trophy, was donated by Channel swimmer Derek Turner in the early 1970’s, but after Cynthia Nicholas had taken the record from 6 to 19 swims, including 4 successful 2 way swims, it was felt that she had won the trophy outright and it was presented to her at a ceremony by the Mayor of Folkestone. But nothing stays still in Channel swimming and 10 years later, we had a new champion and needed a new trophy.

Donated by Ray and Audrey Scott

The Queen of the Channel® trophy, along with the title” Queen of the Channel®” is awarded to the female swimmer who has completed the most number of Channel swims, as authenticated by, verified by and ratified by the Channel Swimming Association Ltd.

The Association appreciates that some swimmers may wish to make their attempts outside of the Rules and Conditions of the Channel Swimming Association Ltd. and we regret that we are unable to verify these swims and are unable to include them in our lists of successful swims. Consequently they do not qualify for this award.

The Queens of the Channel® 1926-2013

Crossings Swimmer Hours Minutes Year
1 Gertrude Ederle 14 39 1926
2 Florence Chadwick 14 42 1953
3 Florence Chadwick 13 55 1955
4 Greta Andersen 13 40 1964
5 Greta Andersen 13 49 1965
6 Cynthia Nicholas 12 15 1978
7 Cynthia Nicholas 10 10 1979
8 Cynthia Nicholas 10 45 1979
9 Cynthia Nicholas
10 Cynthia Nicholas (2-Way) 19 12 1979
11 Cynthia Nicholas 10 19 1980
12 Cynthia Nicholas 10 0 1980
13 Cynthia Nicholas 10 11 1981
14 Cynthia Nicholas
15 Cynthia Nicholas (2-Way) 22 21 1982
16 Cynthia Nicholas
17 Cynthia Nicholas (2-Way) 18 56 1982
18 Cynthia Nicholas
19 Cynthia Nicholas (2-Way) 20 9 1982
20 Alison Streeter (2-Way) 22 20 1992
21 Alison Streeter 10 16 1993
22 Alison Streeter 11 14 1993
23 Alison Streeter 10 17 1993
24 Alison Streeter 10 48 1994
25 Alison Streeter 9 40 1994
26 Alison Streeter 10 24 1994
27 Alison Streeter 11 26 1994
28 Alison Streeter 11 53 1995
29 Alison Streeter 9 55 1995
30 Alison Streeter 10 58 1995
31 Alison Streeter (2-Way) 20 55 1995
32 Alison Streeter
33 Alison Streeter 9 30 1996
34 Alison Streeter 9 31 1996
35 Alison Streeter 11 35 1997
36 Alison Streeter 11 14 1997
37 Alison Streeter 10 56 1998
38 Alison Streeter 11 3 1999
39 Alison Streeter 12 28 2000

The Association appreciates that some swimmers may wish to make their attempts outside of the Rules and Conditions of the Channel Swimming Association and we regret that we are unable to verify these swims and are unable to include them in our lists of successful swims. Consequently swims conducted outside of CSA control do not qualify for this award.